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SEDUCTION 


CultureTexts 


Arthur and Marilouise Kroker General Editors 


CultureTexts is a series of creative explorations in theory, politics and 
culture at the fin-de-millenium. Thematically focussed around key 
theoretical debates in the postmodern condition, the CultureTexts series 
challenges received discourses in art, social and political theory, 
feminism, psychoanalysis, value inquiry, science and technology, the 
body, and critical aesthetics. Taken individually, contributions to 
CultureTexts represent the forward breaking-edge of postmodern theory 
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Titles 

Seduction 
Jean Baudrillard 

Panic Encyclopedia 

Arthur Kroker, Marilouise Kroker and David Cook 

Life After Postmodernism: Essays on Value and Culture 
edited and introduced by John Fekete 

Body Invaders 

edited and introduced by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker 

The Postmodern Scene: Excremental Culture and Hyper-Aesthetics 
Arthur Kroker/David Cook 



SEDUCTION 


JEAN BAUDRILLARD 

translated by Brian Singer 


New World Perspectives 
CultureTexts Series 


Montreal 


COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Published by CTHEORY BOOKS in 
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First published as De la seduction by Editions Galilee, 1979. 
9, rue Linne, Paris 5e. 

© Editions Galilee 

English language copyright New World Perspectives, 1990 . 


ISBN 0-920393-25-X 

Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data 

Baudrillard, Jean 

Seduction 

(CultureTexts series) 

Translation of: De la seduction. 

ISBN 0-920393-25-X 
1. Seduction-Psychological aspects. 
(Psychology). 3 . Sex (Psychology) 4. 

1 . Title. II. Series . 

BF637.S36133813 1990 

2 . Femininity 
Postmodemism.z 


CONTENTS 


INTRODUCTION 


I. THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 

The Ecliptic of Sex 3 

The Eternal Irony of the Community 12 

Stereo-Porno 28 

Seduction/Production 37 

II. SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 

The Sacred Horizon of Appearances 53 

Trompe Voeil or Enchanted Simulation 60 

I’ll Be Your Mirror 67 

Death in Samarkand 72 

The Secret and The Challenge 79 

The Effigy of the Seductress 85 

The Ironic Strategy of the Seducer 98 

The Fear of Being Seduced 119 

III. THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 

The Passion for Rules 131 

The Dual, the Polar and the Digital 154 

The “Ludic” and Cold Seduction 157 

Seduction as Destiny 179 


INTRODUCTION 


A fixed destiny weighs on seduction. For religion seduction 
was a strategy of the devil, whether in the guise of witchcraft 
or love. It is always the seduction of evil - or of the world. It 
is the very artifice of the world. Its malediction has been un¬ 
changed in ethics and philosophy, and today it is maintained 
in psychoanalysis and the ‘liberation of desire.’ Given the 
present-day promotion of sex, evil and perversion, along with 
the celebration of the ofttimes programmatic resurrection of 
all that was once accursed, it might seem paradoxical that seduc¬ 
tion has remained in the shadows - and even returned thereto 
permanently. 

The eighteenth century still spoke of seduction. It was, with 
valour and honour, a central preoccupation of the aristocratic 
spheres. The bourgeois Revolution put an end to this preoccu¬ 
pation (and the others, the later revolutions ended it irrevoca¬ 
bly - every revolution, in its beginnings, seeks to end the 
seduction of appearances). The bourgeois era dedicated itself 
to nature and production, things quite foreign and even express¬ 
ly fatal to seduction. And since sexuality arises, as Foucault notes, 
from a process of production (of discourse, speech or desire), 
it is not at all surprising that seduction has been all the more 
covered over. We live today the promotion of nature, be it the 
good nature of the soul of yesteryear, or the good material na¬ 
ture of things, or even the psychic nature of desire. Nature pur¬ 
sues its realization through all the metamorphosis of the 
repressed, and through the liberation of all energies, be they 


2 SEDUCTION 


psychic, social or material. 

Seduction, however, never belongs to the order of nature, 
but that of artifice - never to the order of energy, but that of 
signs and rituals. This is why all the great systems of produc¬ 
tion and interpretation have not ceased to exclude seduction 
- to its good fortune - from their conceptual field. For seduc¬ 
tion continues to haunt them from without, and from deep wi¬ 
thin its forsaken state, threatening them with collapse. It awaits 
the destruction of every godly order, including those of produc¬ 
tion and desire. Seduction continues to appear to all orthodoxies 
as malefice and artifice, a black magic for the deviation of all 
truths, an exaltation of the malicious use of signs, a conspiracy 
of signs. Every discourse is threatened with this sudden rever¬ 
sibility, absorbed into its own signs without a trace of mean¬ 
ing. This is why all disciplines, which have as an axiom the 
coherence and finality of their discourse, must try to exorcize 
it. This is where seduction and femininity are confounded, in¬ 
deed, confused . Masculinity has always been haunted by this 
sudden reversibility within the feminine. Seduction and femi¬ 
ninity are ineluctable as the reverse side of sex, meaning and 
power. 

Today the exorcism is more violent and systematic. We are 
entering the era of final solutions; for example, that of the sex¬ 
ual revolution, of the production and management of all limi- 
nal and subliminal pleasures, the micro-processing of desire, 
with the woman who produces herself as woman, and as sex, 
being the last avatar. Ending seduction. 

Or else the triumph of a soft seduction, a white, diffuse femini¬ 
zation and eroticization of all relations in an enervated social 
universe. 

Or else none of the above. For nothing can be greater than 
seduction itself, not even the order that destroys it. 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 


Nothing is less certain today than sex, behind the liberation 
of its discourse. And nothing today is less certain than desire, 
behind the proliferation of its images. 

In matters of sex, the proliferation is approaching total loss. 
Here lies the secret of the ever increasing production of sex 
and its signs, and the hyperrealism of sexual pleasure, particu¬ 
larly feminine pleasure. The principle of uncertainty has extend¬ 
ed to sexual reason, as well as political and economic reason. 

The state of sex’s liberation is also that of its indetermina¬ 
tion. No more want, no more prohibitions, and no more limits: 
it is the loss of every referential principle. Economic reason is 
sustained only by penury; it is put into question with the reali¬ 
zation of its objective, the abolition of the spectre of penury. 
Desire too is sustained only by want. When desire is entirely 
on the side of demand, when it is operationalized without res¬ 
trictions, it loses its imaginary and, therefore, its reality; it ap¬ 
pears everywhere, but in generalized simulation. It is the ghost 
of desire that haunts the defunct reality of sex. Sex is every¬ 
where, except in sexuality (Barthes). 

In sexual mythology, the transition towards the feminine is 
contemporaneous with the passage from determination to 
general indetermination. The feminine is not substituted for the 


6 SEDUCTION 


masculine as one sex for another, according to some structural 
inversion. It is substituted as the end of the determinate 
representation of sex, as the flotation of the law that regulates 
the difference between the sexes. The ascent of the feminine 
corresponds to both the apogee of sexual pleasure and a catas¬ 
trophe relative to sex’s reality principle. 

And so it is femininity that is gripping, in the present and 
fatal situation of sex’s hyperreality - as it was yesterday, but in 
direct contrast, in irony and seduction. 

★ ★ ★ 

Freud was right: there is but one sexuality, one libido - and 
it is masculine. Sexuality has a strong, discriminative structure 
centered on the phallus, castration, the Name-of-the Father, and 
repression. There is none other. There is no use dreaming of 
some non-phallic, unlocked, unmarked sexuality There is no 
use seeking, from within this structure, to have the feminine 
pass through to the other side, or to cross terms. Either the struc¬ 
ture remains the same, with the female being entirely absorbed 
by the male, or else it collapses, and there is no longer either 
female or male - the degree zero of the structure. This is very 
much what is happening today: erotic polyvalence, the infinite 
potentiality of desire, different connections, diffractions, libidi- 
nal intensities - all multiple variants of a liberatory alternative 
coming from the frontiers of a psychoanalysis free of Freud, 
or from the frontiers of desire free of psychoanalysis. Behind 
the effervescence of the paradigm of sex, everything is con¬ 
verging towards the non-differentiation of the structure and its 
potential neutralization. 

The danger of the sexual revolution for the female is that she 
will be enclosed within a structure that condemns her to either 
discrimination when the structure is strong, or a derisory tri¬ 
umph within a weakened structure. 

The feminine, however, is, and has always been, somewhere 
else. That is the secret of its strength. Just as it is said that some¬ 
thing lasts because its existence is not adequate to its essence, 
it must be said that the feminine seduces because it is never 
where it thinks it is, or where it thinks itself. The feminine is 
not found in the history of suffering and oppression imputed 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 7 


to it - women’s historical tribulations (though by guile it con¬ 
ceals itself therein). It suffers such servitude only when assigned 
to and repressed within this structure - to which the sexual 
revolution assigns and represses it all the more dramatically. But 
by what aberrant complicity (complicit with what? if not, pre¬ 
cisely, the male) would one have us believe that this is the fe¬ 
male’s history? Repression is already here in full force, in the 
narrative of women’s sexual and political misery, to the exclu¬ 
sion of every other type of strength and sovereignty. 

There is an alternative to sex and to power, one that psy¬ 
choanalysis cannot know because its axiomatics are sexual. And 
yes, this alternative is undoubtedly of the order of the femi¬ 
nine, understood outside the opposition masculine /feminine, 
that opposition being essentially masculine, sexual in intention, 
and incapable of being overturned without ceasing to exist. 

This strength of the feminine is that of seduction. 

★ ★ ★ 

One may catch a glimpse of another, parallel universe (the 
two never meet) with the decline of psychoanalysis and sexu¬ 
ality as strong structures, and their cleansing within a psy and 
molecular universe (that of their final liberation). A universe 
that can no longer be interpreted in terms of psychic or psy¬ 
chological relations, nor those of repression and the uncons¬ 
cious, but must be interpreted in the terms of play, challenges, 
duels, the strategy of appearances - that is, the terms of seduc¬ 
tion. A universe that can no longer be interpreted in terms of 
structures and diacritical oppositions, but implies a seductive 
reversibility - a universe where the feminine is not what op¬ 
poses the masculine, but what seduces the masculine. 

In seduction the feminine is neither a marked nor an un¬ 
marked term. It does not mask the “autonomy” of desire, pleas¬ 
ure or the body, or of a speech or writing that it has supposedly 
lost(?). Nor does it lay claim to some truth of its own. It seduces. 

To be sure, one calls the sovereignty of seduction feminine 
by convention, the same convention that claims sexuality to 
be fundamentally masculine. But the important point is that this 
form of sovereignty has always existed - delineating, from a 
distance, the feminine as something that is nothing, that is never 


8 SEDUCTION 

“produced,” is never where it is produced (and certainly can¬ 
not, therefore, be found in any “feminist” demand). And this 
not from the perspective of a psychic or biological bi-sexuality, 
but that of the trans-sexuality of seduction which the entire 
organization of sex tends to reject - as does psychoanalysis in 
accordance with the axiom that there is no other structure than 
that of sexuality (which renders it incapable, by definition, of 
speaking about anything else). 

★ ★ ★ 

What does the women’s movement oppose to the phallocratic 
structure? Autonomy, difference, a specificity of desire and pleas¬ 
ure, a different relation to the female body, a speech, a writing 
- but never seduction. They are ashamed of seduction, as im¬ 
plying an artificial presentation of the body, or a life of vassalage 
and prostitution. They do not understand that seduction 
represents mastery over the symbolic universe, while power 
represents only mastery of the real universe. The sovereignty 
of seduction is incommensurable with the possession of polit¬ 
ical or sexual power. 

There is a strange, fierce complicity between'the feminist 
movement and the order of truth. For seduction is resisted and 
rejected as a misappropriation of women’s true being, a truth 
that in the last instance is to be found inscribed in their bodies 
and desires. In one stroke the immense privilege of the femi¬ 
nine is effaced: the privilege of having never acceded to truth 
or meaning, and of having remained absolute master of the realm 
of appearances. The capacity immanent to seduction to deny 
things their truth and turn it into a game, the pure play of ap¬ 
pearances, and thereby foil all systems of power and meaning 
with a mere turn of the hand. The ability to turn appearances 
in on themselves, to play on the body’s appearances, rather than 
with the depths of desire. Now all appearances are reversible . . . 
only at the level of appearances are systems fragile and vulner¬ 
able . . . meaning is vulnerable only to enchantment. One must 
be incredibly blind to deny the sole force that is equal and su¬ 
perior to all others, since with a simple play of the strategy of 
appearances , it turns them upside down. 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 9 


Anatomy is destiny, Freud said. One might be surprised that 
the feminist movement’s rejection of this definition, phallic by 
definition, and sealed with the stamp of anatomy, opens onto 
an alternative that remains fundamentally biological and ana¬ 
tomical: 

Indeed, woman’s pleasure does not have to choose 
between clitoral activity and vaginal passivity, for 
example. The pleasure of the vaginal caress does 
not have to be substituted for that of the clitoral 
caress. They each contribute, irreplaceably, to 
woman’s pleasure. Among other caresses . . .Fon¬ 
dling the breasts, touching the vulva, spreading the 
lips, stroking the posterior wall of the vagina, 
brushing against the mouth of the uterus, and so 
on. To evoke only a few of the most specifically 
female pleasures. 

Luce Irigaray 

Parole de femme? But it is always an anatomical speech, al¬ 
ways that of the body. What is specific to women lies in the 
diffraction of the erogenous zones, in a decentered eroticism, 
the diffuse polyvalence of sexual pleasure and the transfigura¬ 
tion of the entire body by desire: this is the theme song that 
runs through the entire female, sexual revolution, but also 
through our entire culture of the body, from the Anagrammes 
of Bellmer to Deleuze’s mechanized connections. It is always 
a question of the body, if not the anatomical, then the organic, 
erogenous body, the functional body that, even in fragmented 
and metaphorical form, would have pleasure as its object and 
desire as its natural manifestation. But then either the body is 
here only a metaphor (and if this is the case, what is the sexual 
revolution, and our entirfe culture, having become a body cul¬ 
ture, talking about?), or else, with this body speech, this wom¬ 
an speech, we have, very definitely, entered into an anatomical 
destiny, into anatomy as destiny. There is nothing here radical¬ 
ly opposed to Freud’s maxim. 

Nowhere is it a question of seduction, the body worked by 
artifice (and not by desire), the body seduced, the body to be 


10 SEDUCTION 


seduced, the body in its passion separated from its truth, from 
that ethical truth of desire which obsesses us - that serious, 
profoundly religious truth that the body today incarnates, and 
for which seduction is just as evil and deceitful as it once was 
for religion. Nowhere is it a question of the body delivered to 
appearances. Now, seduction alone is radically opposed to anat¬ 
omy as destiny Seduction alone breaks the distinctive sexuali- 
zation of bodies and the inevitable phallic economy that results. 

Any movement that believes it can subvert a system by its 
infra-structure is naive. Seduction is more intelligent, and seem¬ 
ingly spontaneously so. Immediately obvious - seduction need 
not be demonstrated, nor justified - it is there all at once, in 
the reversal of all the alleged depth of the real, of all psycholo¬ 
gy, anatomy, truth, or power. It knows (this is its secret) that 
there is no anatomy , nor psychology, that all sighs are reversi¬ 
ble. Nothing belongs to it, except appearances - all powers elude 
it, but it “reversibilizes” all their signs. How canzone oppose 
seduction? The only thing truly at stake is mastery of the strategy 
of appearances, against the force of being and reality. There is 
no need to play being against being, or truth against truth; why 
become stuck undermining foundations, when a light manipu¬ 
lation of appearances will do. 

Now woman is but appearance. And it is the feminine as ap¬ 
pearance that thwarts masculine depth. Instead of rising up 
against such “insulting 1 * counsel, women would do well to let 
themselves be seduced by its truth, for here lies the secret of 
their strength, which they are in the process of losing by erecting 
a contrary, feminine depth. 

★ ★ ★ 

It is not quite the feminine as surface that is opposed to the 
masculine as depth, but the feminine as indistinctness of sur¬ 
face and depth. Or as indifference to the authentic and the ar¬ 
tificial. Joan Riviere, in “Feminite sans mascarade” (La 
Psychoanalyse no. 7), makes a fundamental claim - one that 
contains within it all seduction: “Whether femininity be authen¬ 
tic or superficial, it is fundamentally the same thing.” 

This can be said only of the feminine. The masculine, by con¬ 
trast, possesses unfailing powers of discrimination and abso- 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 11 


lute criteria for pronouncing the truth. The masculine is cer¬ 
tain, the feminine is insoluble. 

Now, surprisingly, this proposition, that in the feminine the 
very distinction between authenticity and artifice is without 
foundation, also defines the space of simulation. Here too one 
cannot distinguish between reality and its models, there being 
no other reality than that secreted by the simulative models, 
just as there is no other femininity than that of appearances. 
Simulation too is insoluble. 

This strange coincidence points to the ambiguity of the femi¬ 
nine: it simultaneously provides radical evidence of simulation, 
and the only possibility of its overcoming - in seduction, pre¬ 
cisely. 



THE ETERNAL IRONY OF 
THE COMMUNITY 


This femininity, the eternal irony 
of the community. 

Hegel 


Femininity as a principle of uncertainty. 

It causes the sexual poles to waver. It is not the pole opposed 
to masculinity, but what abolishes the differential opposition, 
and thus sexuality itself, as incarnated historically in the mas¬ 
culine phallocracy, as it might be incarnated in the future in 
a female phallocracy. 

If femininity is a principle of uncertainty, it is where it is it¬ 
self uncertain that this uncertainty will be greatest: in the play 
of femininity. 

Transvestism. Neither homosexuals nor transexuals, transves¬ 
tites like to play with the indistinctness of the sexes. The spell 
they cast, over themselves as well as others, is born of sexual 
vacillation and not, as is customary, the attraction of one sex 
for the other. They do not really like male men or female wom¬ 
en, nor those who define themselves, redundantly, as distinct 
sexual beings. In order for sex to exist, signs must reduplicate 
biological being. Here the signs are separated from biology, and 
consequently the sexes no longer exist properly speaking. What 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 13 


transvestites love is this game of signs, what excites them is to 
seduce the signs themselves. With them everything is makeup, 
theater, and seduction. They appear obsessed with games of 
sex, but they are obsessed, first of all, with play itself; and if 
their lives appear more sexually endowed than our own, it is 
because they make sex into a total, gestural, sensual, and ritual 
game, an exalted but ironic invocation. 

Nico seemed so beautiful only because her femininity ap¬ 
peared so completely put on. She emanated something more 
than beauty, something more sublime, a different seduction. 
And there was deception: she was a false drag queen, a real 
woman, in fact, playing the queen. It is easier for a non¬ 
female/female than for a real woman, already legitimated by 
her sex, to move amongst the signs and take seduction to the 
limit. Only the non-female/female can exercise an untainted 
fascination, because s/he is more seductive than sexual. The 
fascination is lost when the real sex shows through; to be sure, 
some other desire may find something here, but precisely no 
longer in that perfection that belongs to artifice alone. 

Seduction is always more singular and sublime than sex, and 
it commands the higher price. 

One must not seek to ground transvestism in bisexuality. For 
the sexes and sexual dispositions, whether mixed or ambiva¬ 
lent, indefinite or inverted, are still real, and still bear witness 
to the psychic reality of sex. Here, however, it is this very defi¬ 
nition of the sexual that is eclipsed. Not that this game is per¬ 
verse. What is perverse is what perverts the order of the terms; 
but here there are no longer any terms to pervert, only signs 
to seduce. 

Nor should one seek to ground transvestism in the uncons¬ 
cious or in “latent homosexuality.” The old casuistry of laten¬ 
cy is itself a product of the sexual imaginary of surfaces and 
depths, and always implies a diagnosis of symptoms and prog¬ 
nosis for their correction. But here nothing is latent, everything 
calls into question the very idea of a secret, determinate instance 
of sex, the idea that the deep play of phantasies controls the 
superficial play of signs. On the contrary, everything is played 
out in the vertigo of this inversion, this transsubstantiation of 
sex into signs that is the secret of all seduction. 


14 SEDUCTION 


Perhaps the transvestite’s ability to seduce comes straight from 
parody - a parody of sex by its over-signification. The prosti¬ 
tution of transvestites would then have a different meaning from 
the more common prostitution of women. It would be closer 
to the sacred prostitution practiced by the Ancients (or the 
sacred status of the hermaphrodite). It would be contiguous 
with the theater, or with makeup, the ritual and burlesque os¬ 
tentation of a sex whose own pleasure is absent. 

The seduction itself is coupled with a parody in which an 
implacable hostility to the feminine shows through, and which 
might be interpreted as a male appropriation of the panoply 
of female allurements. The transvestite would then reproduce 
the situation of the first warrior - he alone was seductive - the 
woman being nul (consider fascism, and its affinity for trans¬ 
vestites). But rather than the addition of the sexes is not this 
their invalidation? And doesn’t the masculine, in this mockery 
of femininity, rescind its status and prerogatives in order to 
become a contrapuntal element in a ritual game? 

In any case, this parody of femininity is not quite as acerbic 
as one might think, since it is the parody of femininity as men 
imagine and stage it, as well as phantasize it. A femininity ex¬ 
aggerated, degraded, parodied (drag queens in Barcelona keep 
their moustaches and expose their hairy chests), the claim is 
that in this society femininity is naught but the signs with which 
men rig it up. To over-simulate femininity is to suggest that wom¬ 
an is but a masculine model of simulation. Here is a challenge 
to the female model by way of a female game , a challenge to 
the female/woman by way of the female/sign. And it is possi¬ 
ble that this living, feigned denunciation, which plays on the 
furthermost bounds of artifice, and simultaneously plays with 
the mechanisms of femininity to the point of perfection, is more 
lucid and radical than all the ideo-political claims of a feminin¬ 
ity “alienated in its being.” Here femininity is said to have no 
being (no nature, writing, singular pleasures or, as Freud said, 
particularized libido). Contrary to every search for an authen¬ 
tic femininity, for a woman’s speech, etc., the claim here is that 
the female is nothing, and that this is her strength. 

Here is a more subtle response than feminism’s outright denial 
of the law of castration. For the latter encounters symbolic, not 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 15 


anatomical fate, one that weighs on all possible sexuality. The 
overturning of this law, therefore, can only result from its parod- 
ic resolution, from the ex-centricity of the signs of femininity, 
the reduplication of signs that puts an end to every insoluble 
biology, or metaphysics of the sexes. Makeup is nothing else: 
a triumphant parody, a solution by excess, the surface hyper¬ 
simulation of this in-depth simulation that is itself the symbol¬ 
ic law of castration - a transsexual game of seduction. 

The irony of artificial practices: the peculiar ability of the 
painted woman or prostitute to exaggerate her features, to turn 
them into more than a sign, and by this usage of, not the false 
as opposed to the true, but the more false than false, to incar¬ 
nate the peaks of sexuality while simultaneously being absorbed 
in their simulation. The irony proper to the constitution of wom¬ 
an as idol or sex object: in her closed perfection, she puts an 
end to sex play and refers man, the lord and master of sexual 
reality, to his transparency as an imaginary subject. The iron¬ 
ic power of the object, then, which she loses when promoted 
to the status of a subject. 

All masculine power is a power to produce. All that is 
produced, be it the production of woman as female, falls wi¬ 
thin the register of masculine power. The only, and irresistible, 
power of femininity is the inverse power of seduction. In itself 
it is nul, seduction has no power of its own, only that of an- 
nuling the power of production. But it always annuls the latter. 

Has there, moreover, ever been a phallic power? This entire 
history of patriarchal domination, of phallocracy, the immemori¬ 
al male privilege, is perhaps only a story. Beginning with the 
exchange of women in primitive societies, stupidly interpret¬ 
ed as the first stage of woman-as-object. All that we have been 
asked to believe - the universal discourse on the inequality of 
the sexes, the theme song of an egalitarian and revolutionary 
modernity (reinforced, these days, with all the energies of a 
failed revolution) - is perhaps one gigantic misunderstanding. 
The opposite hypothesis is just as plausible and, from a certain 
perspective, more interesting - that is, that the feminine has 
never been dominated, but has always been dominant. The femi¬ 
nine considered not as a sex, but as the form transversal to ev¬ 
ery sex, as well as to every power, as the secret, virulent form 




I 


16 SEDUCTION 

of in-sexuality. The feminine as a challenge whose devastation 
can be experienced today throughout the entire expanse of sex¬ 
uality. And hasn’t this challenge, which is also that of seduc¬ 
tion, always been triumphant? 

In this sense, the masculine has always been but a residual, 
secondary and fragile formation, one that must 1 be defended 
by retrenchments, institutions, and artifices. The phallic for¬ 
tress offers all the signs of a fortress, that is to say,, of weakness. 
It can defend itself only from the ramparts of a manifest sexu¬ 
ality, of a finality of sex that exhausts itself in reproduction, or 
in the orgasm. 

One can hypothesize that the feminine is the only sex, and 
that the masculine only exists by a superhuman effort to leave 
it. A moment’s distraction, and one falls back into the feminine. 
The feminine would have a decisive advantage, the masculine 
a definite handicap. One sees how ridiculous it is to want to 
“liberate” the one in order that it accede to the fragility of the 
other’s “power,” to the eccentric, paradoxical, paranoid and tire¬ 
some masculine state. 

The phallic fable reversed: where woman is created from man 
by subtraction, here it is man created from woman by excep¬ 
tion. A fable easily strengthened by Bettleheim’s analysis in Sym¬ 
bolic Wounds, where men are said to have erected their powers 
and institutions in order to thwart the originally far superior 
powers of women. The driving force is not penis envy, but on 
the contrary, man’s jealousy of woman’s power of fertilization. 
This female advantage could not be atoned; a different order 
had to be built at all costs, a masculine social, political and eco¬ 
nomic order, wherein this advantage could be reduced. Thus 
the ritual practices whereby the signs of the opposite sex are 
appropriated are largely masculine: scarifications, mutilations, 
artificial vaginizations, couvades, etc. 

All this is as convincing as a paradoxical hypothesis can be 
(and it is always more interesting than the received wisdom), 
but in the end it only reverses the terms, and so turns the femi¬ 
nine into an original substance, a sort of anthropological in¬ 
frastructure. It reverses the anatomical determination, but lets 
it subsist as destiny - and once again the “irony of femininity” 
is lost. 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 17 


The irony is lost when the feminine is instituted as a sex, even 
and above all when it is in order to denounce its oppression. 
It is the eternal illusion of enlightenment humanism, which 
aspires to liberate the servile sex, race or class in the very terms 
of its servitude. That the feminine becomes a sex in its own 
right! An absurdity, if posed in neither the terms of sex nor pow¬ 
er. 

The feminine knows neither equivalence nor value: it is, there¬ 
fore, not soluble in power. It is not even subversive, it is rever¬ 
sible. Power, on the other hand, is soluble in the reversibility 
of the feminine. If the “facts” cannot decide whether it was 
the masculine or feminine that was dominant throughout the 
ages (once again, the thesis of women’s oppression is based on 
a caricatural phallocratic myth), by contrast, it remains clear 
that in matters of sexuality, the reversible form prevails over 
the linear form. The excluded form prevails, secretly, over the 
dominant form. The seductive form prevails over the produc¬ 
tive form. 

Femininity in this sense is on the same side as madness. It 
is because madness secretly prevails that it must be normalized 
(thanks to, amongst other things, the hypothesis of the uncons¬ 
cious). It is because femininity secretly prevails that it must be 
recycled and normalized (in sexual liberation in particular). 

★ ★ ★ 


And in the orgasm. 

The despoilment of the orgasm, the absence of sexual pleas¬ 
ure, is often advanced as characteristic of women’s oppression. 
A flagrant injustice whose immediate rectification everyone must 
pursue in accord with the injunctions of a sort of long-distance 
race or sex rally. Sexual pleasure has become a requisite and 
a fundamental right. The most recent of the rights of man, it 
has acceded to the dignity of a categorical imperative. It is im¬ 
moral to act otherwise. But this imperative does not even have 
the Kantian charm of endless finalities. As the management and 
self-management of desire, its imposition does not, no more 
than that of the law, allow ignorance as a defense. 

But this is to remain unaware that sexual pleasure too is rever- 






18 SEDUCTION 


sible, that is to say that, in the absence or denial of the orgasm, 
superior intensity is possible. It is here, where the end of sex 
becomes aleatory again, that something arises that can be called 
seduction or delight. Or again, sexual pleasure can be just a pretext 
for another, more exciting, more passionate game. This is what 
occurred in The Empire of the Senses, where the aim was to push 
sexual pleasure to its limit and beyond - a challenge that prevails 
over the workings of desire, because it is much more dizzying, 
because it involves the passions while the other implies only a drive. 

But this vertigo can be equally present in the rejection of sex¬ 
ual pleasure. Who knows if women, far from being “despoiled,” 
have not, from time immemorial, been playing a game of their 
own by triumphantly asserting a right to sexual reticence? If 
they have not, from the depths of their sexual impossibility, been 
throwing down a challenge, challenging men’s pleasure to be 
but the pleasure of men alone? No one knows to what destruc¬ 
tive depths such provocation can go, nor what omnipotence 
it implies. Men, reduced to solitary pleasures, and enmeshed 
within the directives of delight and conquest, never did find 
a way out. 

Who won this game with its different strategies? Men, ap¬ 
parently, all down the line. But it is by no means certain that they 
did not lose themselves in this terrain and become bogged down 
(as in that of the seizure of power) consequent to a sort of forward 
flight that could neither assure them of safety, nor relieve them 
of their secret despair at what had escaped them - whatever 
their gains or calculations. This had to end: it was imperative 
that women have orgasms. Measures had to be taken to liber¬ 
ate them and make them climax - thereby ending this unbeara¬ 
ble challenge that ultimately nullifies sexual pleasure in a 
possible strategy of non-pleasure. For sexual pleasure knows 
no strategy: it is only energy seeking an outlet. It is therefore quite 
inferior to any strategy that uses it as its material, and uses desire 
itself as a tactical element. This is the central theme of the liber¬ 
tine sexuality of the eighteenth century, from Laclos to Casanova 
and Sade (including Kierkegaard in Diary of the Seducer), for 
whom sexuality still retains its ceremonial, ritual and strategic 
character, before sinking, with the Rights of Man and psychol¬ 
ogy, into the revealed truth of sex. 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 19 


★ ★ ★ 

Here then is the era of the pill when sexual pleasure is 
decreed. The end of the right to sexual reticence. Women must 
realize that they are being dispossessed of something essential 
for them to put up so much resistance (all those ghosts of 
“missed” acts) to the “rational” adoption of the pill. The same 
resistance as that of entire generations to school, medicine, secu¬ 
rity and work. The same profound intuition about the ravages 
of an unfettered liberty, speech or pleasure. Defiance, the other’s 
defiance, is no longer possible: all symbolic logic has been elimi¬ 
nated to the advantage of a permanent erection and its black¬ 
mail (without counting the tendencious lowering of the rate 
of sexual pleasure itself). 

The “traditional” woman’s sexuality was neither repressed 
nor forbidden. Within her role she was entirely herself; she was 
in no way defeated, nor passive, nor did she dream of her fu¬ 
ture “liberation.” It is the beautiful souls who, retrospectively, 
see women as alienated from time immemorial, and then liber¬ 
ated. And there is a profound disdain in this vision, the same 
disdain as that shown towards the “alienated” masses supposedly 
incapable of being anything but mystified sheep. 

It is easy to paint a picture of woman alienated through the 
ages, and then open the doors of desire for her under the 
auspices of the revolution and psychoanalysis. It is all so sim¬ 
ple, so obscene in its simplicity - worse, it implies the very es¬ 
sence of sexism and racism: commiseration. 

Fortunately, the female has never fit this image. She has al¬ 
ways had her own strategy, the unremitting, winning strategy 
of challenge (one of whose major forms is seduction). There 
is no need to lament the wrongs she suffered, nor to want to 
rectify them. No need to play the lover of justice for the weak¬ 
er sex. No need to mortgage everything for some liberation or 
desire whose secret had to wait till the twentieth century to 
be revealed. At each moment of the story the game was played 
with a full deck, with all the cards, including the trumps. And 
men did not win, not at all. On the contrary, it is women who 
are now about to lose, precisely under the sign of sexual pleas- 





20 SEDUCTION 


ure - but this is another story. i 

★ ★ ★ 

It is the story of the feminine in the present tense, in a cul¬ 
ture that produces everything, makes everything speak, every¬ 
thing babble, everything climax. The promotion of the female 
as a sex in its own right (equal rights, equal pleasures), of the 
female as value - at the expense of the female as a principle 
of uncertainty. All sexual liberation lies in this strategy: the im¬ 
position of the rights, status and pleasure of women. The over¬ 
exposing and staging of the female as sex, and of the orgasm 
as the repeated proof of sex. 

Pornography states this clearly. A trilogy of spread, sensual¬ 
ism and signification, pornography promotes female sexual 
pleasure in so exaggerated a manner, only in order to better 
bury the uncertainty that hovers over the “black continent.” 
No more of that “eternal irony of the community” of which 
Hegel spoke. Henceforth women will climax, and will know 
why. All femininity will be made visible - woman as emblematic 
of orgasm, and orgasm as emblematic of sexuality. No more un¬ 
certainty, no more secrets. This is the radical obscenity that is 
beginning. 


★ ★ ★ 

Pasolini’s Salo, or a 120 Days - a veritable twilight of seduc¬ 
tion. All reversibility has been abolished in accordance with 
an implacable logic. Everything is irreversibly masculine and 
dead. Even the complicity, the promiscuity between execution¬ 
ers and victims has disappeared: inanimate torture, perpetrat¬ 
ed without emotion, a cold machination. (Here one perceives 
that sexual gratification is truly the industrial usufruct of the 
body, and the opposite of all seduction: it is a product of ex¬ 
traction, a technological product of a machinery of bodies, a 
logistics of pleasure which goes straight to its objective, only 
to find its object dead). 

The film illustrates the truth that in a dominant masculine 
system, and in every dominant system (which thereby becomes 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 21 


masculine), it is femininity that incarnates reversibility, the pos¬ 
sibility of play and symbolic involvement. Salo is a universe 
completely sanitized of that minimum of seduction that pro¬ 
vides the stakes not just of sex, but of every relation, including 
death and the exchange of death (this is expressed in Salo, as 
in Sade, by the predominance of sodomy). It is here that it be¬ 
comes apparent that the feminine is not a sex (opposed to the 
other), but what counters the sex that alone has full rights and 
the full exercise of these rights, the sex that holds a monopoly 
on sex: the masculine, itself haunted by the fear of something 
other, of which sex is but the disenchanted form-, seduction. 
The latter is a game, sex is a function. Seduction supposes a 
ritual order, sex and desire a natural order. It is these two fun¬ 
damental forms that confront each other in the male and fe¬ 
male, and not some biological difference or some naive rivalry 
of power. 


★ ★ ★ 

The feminine is not just seduction; it also suggests a challenge 
to the male to be the sex, to monopolize sex and sexual pleas¬ 
ure, a challenge to go to the limits of its hegemony and exer¬ 
cise it unto death. Today phallocracy is collapsing under the 
pressure of this challenge (present throughout our culture’s sex¬ 
ual history), and its inability to meet it. Our entire conception 
of sexuality may be collapsing because constructed around the 
phallic function and the positive definition of sex. Every posi¬ 
tive form can accommodate itself to its negative form, but un¬ 
derstands the challenge of the reversible form as mortal. Every 
structure can adapt to its subversion or inversion, but not to 
the reversion of its terms. Seduction is this reversible form. 

Not the seduction to which women have been historically 
consigned: the culture of the gynaeceum, of rouge and lace, 
a seduction reworked by the mirror stage and the female im¬ 
aginary, the terrain of sex games and ruses (though here lies 
the only bodily ritual of western culture left, all the others having 
disappeared, including politeness). But seduction as an ironic, 
alternative form, one that breaks the referentiality of sex and 
provides a space, not of desire, but of play and defiance. 



22 SEDUCTION 


i 


This is what occurs in the most banal games of seduction: 
I shy away; it is not you who will give me pleasure, it is I who 
will make you play, and thereby rob you of your pleasure. A 
game in continuous movement - one cannot assume that sex¬ 
ual strategies alone are involved. There is, above Sail, a strategy 
of displacement (se-ducere: to hike aside, to divert from one’s 
path) that implies a distortion of sex’s truth. To play is not to 
take pleasure. Seduction, as a passion and as a game at the lev¬ 
el of the sign, acquires a certain sovereignty; it is seduction that 
prevails in the long term because it implies a reversible, indeter¬ 
minate order. ] 

The glamour of seduction is quite superior to; the Christian 
consolation of the pleasures of the flesh. One wants us to con¬ 
sider the latter a natural finality— and many are driven mad for 
failing to attain it. But love has nothing to do with sex drives, 
if not in the libidinal look of our contemporary! culture. Love 
is a challenge and a prize: a challenge to the other to return 
the love. And to be seduced is to challenge the other to be 
seduced in turn (there is no finer argument than to accuse a 
woman of being incapable of being seduced). Perversion, from 
this perspective takes on a somewhat different meaning: it is 
to pretend to be seduced without being seduced, without be¬ 
ing capable of being seduced. 

The law of seduction takes the form of an uninterrupted ritual 
exchange where seducer and seduced constantly raise the stakes 
in a game that never ends. And cannot end since the dividing 
line that defines the victory of the one and the defeat of the 
other, is illegible. And because there is no limit to the challenge 
to love more than one is loved, or to be always more seduced 
- if not death. Sex, on the other hand, has a quick, banal end: 
the orgasm, the immediate form of desire’s realization. 

In analysis, one can see the extreme danger that 
may be incurred by a man who begins to listen 
to a woman’s demand for sexual pleasure. If, 
through her desire, a woman alters the unaltera- 
bility within which a man cannot help but 'enclose 
her, if she herself becomes an immediate and 
limitless demand, if she no longer remains within 


i 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 23 


this enclosure and is no longer held by it, the man 
finds himself cast into a subsuicidal state. A demand 
that tolerates no delay, no excuse, that is limitless 
with regard to intensity and duration, shatters the 
absolute represented by woman, by feminine sex¬ 
uality, and even by feminine pleasure. ...Feminine 
sexual pleasure can always be rendered divine 
again, and thus controlled, reduced to the cool¬ 
ness of marble breasts, whereas the demand for 
enjoyment made by a woman to the man who is 
bound to her without being able to flee, causes 
him to lose his bearings and the feeling of pure 
contingency.... When all desire is channelled into 
the demand for enjoyment, the world turns up¬ 
side down and bursts asunder. This is doubtless 
why out culture has taught women to demand 
nothing in order to induce them to desire 
nothing... 1 

And this “desire, all of which is channelled into the demand 
for enjoyment”? Does it still concern woman’s “desire”? Isn’t 
this a form of madness, which has but little to do with “libera¬ 
tion”? What is this new, feminine figure of unlimited sexual de¬ 
mand, an unlimited claim to sexual gratification? This, in effect, 
is the end point to which our culture is rushing - and Roustang 
is right, it conceals a form of subsuicidal collective violence. 
And not just for men, but for women too, and for sexuality in 
general. 

We say no to those who love only women; those 
who love only men; those who love only children 
(there are also the elderly, sados, machos, dogs, 
cats)... The new militant, with his refined egocen- 
tricism, claims a right to his sexual racism. But we 
say no to all sectarianism. If one must become a 
misogynist to be a pederast, an androphobe to be 


1. Francois Roustang, Dire Mastery (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press,, 1982), pp. 104-5. 


24 SEDUCTION 


a lesbian, ...if one must reject the pleasures of the 
night, chance encounters, and pick-ups in order 
to defend oneself against rape, then in the name 
of a struggle against certain prohibitions, one has 
returned to other taboos, moralisms, norms, 
blinkers... 

Within our body we experience not one sex, not 
two, but a multitude of sexes. We do not see a man, 
or woman, but a human being, anthropomorph- 
ic(!)... Our bodies are tired of all the stereotyped 
cultural barriers, all the physiological segregation... 

We are male and female, adults and children, fairies, 
dykes, and gays, fuckers and fucked, buggers and 
buggered. We do not accept the reduction of all 
our sexual richness to a single sex. Our sapphism 
is only one facet of our sexuality. We refuse to limit 
ourselves to what society demands of us, that is, 
that we be either hetero, lesbian, gay the whole 
gamut of promotional products. We are unreasona¬ 
ble in all our desires. 

Judith Belladonna Barbara Penton 
Lite, July 1978 

The frenzy of unlimited sex, an exacerbated ventilation of 
desire onto demand and gratification - doesn’t this constitute 
a reversal of what Roustang described: if until now 1 women were 
taught to demand nothing in order that they desired nothing, 
are they not now being taught to demand everything in order 
to desire nothing? The entire black continent decoded by sex¬ 
ual gratification? 

Masculinity would be closer to the Law, femininity closer to 
sexual pleasure. But is not such pleasure the axiomatics of a 
decoded sexual universe - the feminine and liberating refer¬ 
ence produced by the gradual enfeeblement of the Law, the Law 
becoming an injunction to pleasure after having been its inter¬ 
diction. An effect of simulation inverted: it is when pleasure 
seeks openly to be autonomous, that it is truly a product of 
the Law. Or else the Law collapses, and where the Law disap¬ 
pears, pleasure is inaugurated as a new contract. What does it 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 2 5 


matter: nothing has changed, and the inversion of signs is but 
a consequence of strategy. This is the significance of the present 
turnaround, and of the twin privileging of the feminine and 
pleasure over the masculine and prohibition that once domi¬ 
nated sexual reason. The exaltation of the feminine is a perfect 
instrument for the unprecedented generalization and controlled 
extension of sexual Reason. 

An unexpected fate, one that cuts short all the illusions of 
desire and all the rationalizations of liberation. Marcuse: 

What within a patriarchal system appears as the 
feminine antithesis of masculine values would then 
truly constitute a repressed social and historical 
alternative - the socialist alternative... To do away 
with patriarchal society is to deny all the particu¬ 
lar qualities attributed to women as women, and 
thus to extend these qualities to all sectors of so¬ 
cial life, to work and leisure alike. Women’s liber¬ 
ation would then be, simultaneously, the liberation 
of men... 

Actuels, Galilee, p. 33. 

Suppose the feminine liberated and placed at the service of 
a new collective Eros (the same modus operandi as for the death 
drive - the same dialectic aligned with the new social Eros). 
But what happens if the feminine, far from being a set of specific 
qualities (which it may have been when repressed, but only 
then), proves, once “liberated,” to be the expression of an erotic 
indetermination, and of the loss of any specific qualities, as 
much in the social as the sexual sphere? 

The situation of the feminine was quite ironic in seduction, 
and is just as ironic today in its indetermination and equivoca¬ 
tion; for its promotion as subject is accompanied by its return 
as object, that is to say, as generalized pornography. A strange 
coincidence. Women’s liberation would very much like to cast 
the deciding vote against this objectification. But the cause is 
hopeless, for the significance of the liberation of the feminine 
lies in its radical ambiguity. Even Roustang’s text, which tends 
to support the flood of female demands, cannot but have a 



26 SEDUCTION 


presentiment of the catastrophe that the channelling of all desire 
into the demand for gratification constitutes. Unless one con¬ 
siders the subsuicidal state of men provoked by this demand 
as a decisive argument, there is nothing that lets one distinguish 
the monstrosity of this demand for female gratification from 
the monstrosity of its total interdiction in years past. 

A similar ambiguity can be found in the male and his weak¬ 
ness. The panic men feel when faced with the “liberated” fe¬ 
male subject is equalled only by their fragility before the 
pornographic chasm of the “alienated” female sex, the female 
sex object. Whether a woman demands sexual satisfaction “by 
becoming conscious of the rationality of her desire,” or offers 
herself in a state of total prostitution - whether the female be 
subject or object, liberated or prostituted, her sex is to be 
devouring, a gaping voracity. It is no accident that all pornog¬ 
raphy turns around the female sex. This is because erections 
are never certain (no scenes of impotence in pornography, they 
are averted by the hallucination of unrestrained feminine sup¬ 
ply); In a sexuality made problematic by demands to prove and 
demonstrate itself without discontinuity, the marked position, 
the masculine position, will be fragile. By contrast, the female 
sex remains equal to itself in its availability, in its chasm, its 
degree zero. The continuity of female sexuality, as opposed to 
male intermittency, is enough to ensure its superiority at the 
level of the organic representation of sexual pleasure, the 
representation of endless sex that has come to dominate our 
fantasies. 

Sexual liberation, like that of the productive forces, is poten¬ 
tially limitless. It demands a profusion come true, a “sexually 
affluent society.” It can no more tolerate a scarcity of sexual 
goods, than of material goods. Now, this utopian continuity 
and availability can only be incarnated by the female sex. This 
is why in this society everything - objects, goods, services, re¬ 
lations of all types - will be feminized, sexualized in a femi¬ 
nine fashion. In advertising it is not so much a matter of adding 
sex to washing machines (which is absurd) as conferring on ob¬ 
jects the imaginary, female quality of being available at will, of 
never being retractile or aleatory. 

In pornography sexuality is lulled by this yawhing monoto- 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 27 


ny, where flaccid or erectile men play only a nominal role. Hard 
core has changed nothing: the male is no longer interesting be¬ 
cause too determined, too marked - the phallus as canonical 
signifier - and thus too fragile. Fascination moves towards the 
neuter, towards an indeterminate chasm, a mobile, diffuse sex¬ 
uality. The feminine’s historical revenge after so many centu¬ 
ries of repression and frigidity? Perhaps, but more likely, the 
exhaustion of sexuality, whether it be the masculine sexuality 
that once nourished all the schemes of erectility, verticality, 
ascendancy, growth, production, etc., and is at present lost in 
the obsessive simulation of all these themes - or a feminine 
sexuality, as incarnated from time immemorial in seduction. To¬ 
day, behind the mechanical objectification of the signs of sex, 
it is the masculine as fragile, and the feminine as degree zero 
which have the upper hand. 

We are indeed in an original situation as regards sexual vio¬ 
lence - violence done to the “subsuicidal” male by unbridled, 
female sensualism. But it is not a matter of a reversal of the histor¬ 
ical violence done to women by male sexual force. The vio¬ 
lence involved here is relative to the neutralization, depression 
and collapse of the marked term before the irruption of the 
non-marked term. It is not a real, generic violence, but a vio¬ 
lence of dissuasion, the violence of the neuter, the violence of 
the degree zero. 

So too is pornography: the violence of sex neutralized. 



STEREO-PORNO 


Take me to your room and fuck 
me. There is something indefinable in 
your vocabulary, something left to be 
desired. 

Philip Dic’k 
The Schizos ’ Ball 

Thrning everything into reality ' 

Jimmy Cliff 

The trompe Voeil removes a dimension from real space, and 
this accounts for its seduction. Pornography by contrast adds 
a dimension to the space of sex, it makes the latter more real 
than the real - and this accounts for its absence of seduction. 

There is no need to search for the phantasies that haunt por¬ 
nography (fetishisms, perversions, primal scenes, etc.,), for they 
are barred by an excess of “reality.” Perhaps pornography is only 
an allegory, that is to say, a forcing of signs, a baroque enter¬ 
prise of over-signification touching on the “grotesque” (literal¬ 
ly, “grotesque” garden art added to a rocky nature as 
pornography adds the vividness of anatomical detail). 

The obscenity itself burns and consumes its object. One sees 
from up close what one has never seen before; to one’s good 
fortune, one has never seen one’s genitals function from so close, 
nor for that matter, from so general a perspective. It is all too 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 29 


true, too near to be true. And it is this that is fascinating, this 
excess of reality, this hyperreality of things. The only phantasy 
in pornography, if there is one, is thus not a phantasy of sex, 
but of the real, and its absorption into something other than 
the real, the hyperreal. Pornographic voyeurism is not a sexual 
voyeurism, but a voyeurism of representation and its perdition, 
a dizziness born of the loss of the scene and the irruption of 
the obscene. 

Consequent to the anatomical zoom, the dimension of the 
real is abolished, the distance implied by the gaze gives way 
to an instantaneous, exacerbated representation, that of sex in 
its pure state, stripped not just of all seduction, but of its im¬ 
age’s very potentiality. Sex so close that it merges with its own 
representation: the end of perspectival space, and therefore, that 
of the imaginary and of phantasy - end of the scene, end of 
an illusion. 

Obscenity, however, is not pornography. Traditional obscenity 
still contains an element of transgression, provocation, or per¬ 
version. It plays on repression, with phantasies of violence. With 
sexual liberation this obscenity disappears: Marcuse’s “repres¬ 
sive desublimation” goes this route (and even if it has not passed 
into general mores, the mythical triumph of release today, like 
that of repression yesterday, is total). The new obscenity, like 
the new philosophy (1 la nouvelle philosophie) arises on the bury¬ 
ing grounds of the old, and has another meaning. It does not 
play with violent sex, sex with real stakes, but with sex neu¬ 
tralized by tolerance. Sex here is outrageously “rendered,” but 
it is the rendering of something that has been removed. Por¬ 
nography is its artificial synthesis, its ceremony but not its 
celebration. Something neo or retro, like those green spaces 
that substitute their chlorophyl effects for a defunct nature, and 
for this reason, partake of the same obscenity as pornography. 

Modern unreality no longer implies the imaginary, it engages 
more reference, more truth, more exactitude - it consists in hav¬ 
ing everything pass into the absolute evidence of the real. As 
in hyperrealist paintings (the paintings of the “magic realists”) 
where one can discern the grain of the face’s skin, an unwont¬ 
ed microscopies that lacks even the charm of the uncanny. 
Hyperrealism is not surrealism, it is a vision that hunts down 


30 SEDUCTION 


seduction by means of visibility. One “gives you more.” This 
is already true of colour in film or television. One gives you 
so much - colour, lustre, sex, all in high fidelity,' and with all 
the accents (that’s life!) - that you have nothing to add, that 
is to say, nothing to give in exchange. Absolute represssion: by 
giving you a little too much one takes away everything. Beware 
of what has been so well “rendered,” when it is being returned 
to you without you ever having given it! I 

A bewildering, claustrophobic and obscene image, that of 
Japanese quadrophonics: an ideally conditioned room, fantas¬ 
tic technique, music in four dimensions, not just the three of 
the environing space, but a fourth, visceral dimension of inter¬ 
nal space. The technical delirium of the perfect restitution of 
music (Bach, Monteverdi, Mozart!) that has never existed , that 
no one has ever heard, and that was not meant to be heard like 
this. Moreover, one does not “hear” it, for the distance that al¬ 
lows one to hear music, at a concert or somewhere else, is 
abolished. Instead it permeates one from all sides; there is no 
longer any musical space; it is the simulation of a total environ¬ 
ment that dispossesses one of even the minimal analytic per¬ 
ception constitutive of music’s charm. The Japanese have 
simple-mindedly, and in complete good faith, confused the real 
with the greatest number of dimensions possible. If they could 
construct hexaphonics, they would do it. Now, it is by this fourth 
dimension which they have added to music, that .they castrate 
you of all musical pleasure. Something else fascinates (but no 
longer seduces) you: technical perfection, “high fidelity,” which 
is just as obsessive and puritanical as the other, conjugal fideli¬ 
ty. This time, however, one no longer even knows what object 
it is faithful to, for no one knows where the real begins or ends, 
nor understands, therefore, the fever of perfectibility that per¬ 
sists in the real’s reproduction. 

Technique in this sense digs its own grave. For at the same 
time that it perfects the means of synthesis, it deepens the criter¬ 
ia of analysis and definition to such an extent that total faith¬ 
fulness, exhaustiveness as regards the real becomes forever 
impossible. The real becomes a vertiginous phantasy of exacti¬ 
tude lost in the infinitismal. 

In comparison with, for example, the trompe-l’oeil, which 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 31 


saves on one dimension, “normal” three-dimensional space is 
already debased and impoverished by virtue of an excess of me¬ 
ans (all that is real, or wants to be real, constitutes a debase¬ 
ment of this type). Quadrophonics, hyperstereo, or hifi 
constitute a conclusive debasement. 

Pornography is the quadrophonics of sex. It adds a third and 
fourth track to the sexual act. It is the hallucination of detail 
that rules. Science has already habituated us to this microscopies, 
this excess of the real in its microscopic detail, this voyeurism 
of exactitude - a close-up of the invisible structures of the cell 
- to this notion of an inexorable truth that can no longer be 
measured with reference to the play of appearances, and that 
can only be revealed by a sophisticated technical apparatus. End 
of the secret. 

What else does pornography do, in its sham vision, than reveal 
the inexorable, microscopic truth of sex? It is directly descended 
from a metaphysics that supposes the phantasy of a hidden truth 
and its revelation, the phantasy of “repressed” energy and its 
production - on the obscene scene of the real. Thus the im¬ 
passe of enlightened thought when asked, should one censure 
pornography and choose a well-tempered repression? There can 
be no definitive response in the affirmative, for pornography 
has reason on its side; it is part of the devastation of the real, 
of the insane illusion of the real and its objective “liberation.” 
One cannot liberate the productive forces without wanting to 
“liberate” sex in its brute function; they are both equally ob¬ 
scene. The realist corruption of sex, the productivist corrup¬ 
tion of labour - same symptoms, same combat. 

The equivalent of the conveyor belt here, is the Japanese vagi¬ 
nal cyclorama - it outdoes any strip-tease. Prostitutes, their thighs 
open, sitting on the edge of a platform, Japanese workers in 
their shirt-sleeves (it is a popular spectacle), permitted to shove 
their noses up to their eyeballs within the woman’s vagina in 
order to see, to see better - but what? They clamber over each 
other in order to gain access, and all the while the prostitutes 
speak to them gently, or rebuke them sharply for the sake of 
form. The rest of the spectacle, the flagellations, the reciprocal 
masturbation and traditional strip-tease, pales before this mo¬ 
ment of absolute obscenity, this moment of visual voracity that 



32 SEDUCTION 


goes far beyond sexual possession. A sublime pornography: if 
they could do it, these guys would be swallowed up whole wi¬ 
thin the prostitute. An exaltation with death? Perhaps, but at 
the same time they are comparing and commenting on the 
respective vaginas in mortal seriousness, without ever smiling 
or breaking out in laughter, and without ever trying to touch 
- except when playing by the rules. No lewdness, but an ex¬ 
tremely serious, infantile act borne of an undivided fascination 
with the mirror of the female organ, like Narcissus’ fascination 
with his own image. Beyond the conventional idealism of the 
strip-tease (perhaps there might even be some seduction here), 
pornography at its most sublime reverses itself into a purified 
obscenity, an obscenity that is purer, deeper, more visceral. But 
why stop with nudity, or the genitalia? If the obscene is a mat¬ 
ter of representation and not of sex, it must explore the very 
interior of the body and the viscera. Who knows what profound 
pleasure is to be found in the visual dismemberment of mu¬ 
cous membranes and smooth muscles? Our pornography still 
retains a restricted definition. Obscenity has an unlimited future. 

But take heed, it is not a matter of the deepening of a drive; 
what is involved is an orgy of realism, an orgy of production. 
A rage (perhaps also a drive, but one that substitutes itself for 
all the others) to summon everything before the jurisdiction 
of signs. Let everything be rendered in the light of the sign, 
in the light of a visible energy. Let all speech be liberated and 
proclaim desire. We are reveling in this liberalization, which, 
in fact, simply marks the growing progress of obscenity. All that 
is hidden and still enjoys a forbidden status, will be unearthed, 
rendered to speech and made to bow before the facts. The real 
is growing ever larger, some day the entire universe will be real, 
and when the real is universal, there will be death. 

i 

★ ★ ★ 

Pornographic simulation: nudity is never anything but an ex¬ 
tra sign. Nudity veiled by clothing functions as a secret, am¬ 
bivalent referent. Unveiled, it surfaces as a sign and returns to 
the circulation of signs: nudity cle-sign. The same occurs with 
hard core and blue porn: the sexual organ, whether erect or 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 33 


open wide is just another sign in the hypersexual panoply. 
Phallus-design. The more one advances willy-nilly in sex’s ver¬ 
acity, in the exposure of its workings, the more immersed one 
becomes in the accumulation of signs, and the more enclosed 
one becomes in the endless over-signification of a real that no 
longer exists, and of a body that never existed. Our entire body 
culture, with its concern for the “expression” of the body’s 
“desires,” for the stereophonies of desire, is a culture of irre¬ 
deemable monstrosity and obscenity. 

Hegel: “Just as when speaking of the exteriority of the hu¬ 
man body, we said that its entire surface, in contrast to that of 
the animal world, reveals the presence and pulsation of the 
heart, we say of art that it has as its task to create in such a way 
that at all points of its surface the phenomenal, the appearance 
becomes an eye, the seat of the soul, rendering itself visible 
to the spirit.” There is, therefore, never any nudity, never any 
nude body that is simply nude; there is never just a body. It 
is like the Indian said when the white man asked him why he 
ran around naked: “For me, it is all face.” In a non-fetishistic 
culture (one that does not fetishize nudity as objective truth) 
the body is not, as in our own, opposed to the face, conceived 
as alone rich in expression and endowed with “eyes”: it is it¬ 
self a face, and looks at you. It is therefore not obscene, that 
is to say, made to be seen nude. It cannot be seen nude, no 
more than the face can for us, for the body is - and is only 
- a symbolic veil; and it is by way of this play of veils, which, 
literally, abolishes the body “as such,” that seduction occurs. 
This is where seduction is at play and not in the tearing away 
of the veil in the name of some manifestation of truth or desire. 

The indistinction of face and body in a total culture of ap¬ 
pearances - the distinction between face and body in a cul¬ 
ture of meaning (the body here becomes monstrously visible , 
it becomes the sign of a monster called desire) - then the total 
triumph in pornography of the obscene body, to the point 
where the face is effaced. The erotic models are faceless, the 
actors are neither beautiful, ugly, or expressive; functional nu¬ 
dity effaces everything in the “spectacularity” of sex. Certain 
films are no more than visceral sound-effects of a coital close- 
up; even the body disappears, dispersed amongst oversize, par- 


34 SEDUCTION 


tial objects. Whatever the face, it remains inappropriate, for it 
breaks the obscenity and reintroduces meaning where every¬ 
thing aspires to abolish it in sexual excess and a nihilistic vertigo. 

At the end of this terrorist debasement, where the body (and 
its “desire”) are made to yield to the evidence, appearances no 
longer have any secret. A culture of the desublimation of ap¬ 
pearances: everything is materialized in accord with the most 
objective categories. A pornographic culture par excellence-, one 
that pursues the workings of the real at all times and in all places. 
A pornographic culture with its ideology of the concrete, of 
facticity and use, and its concern with the preeminence of use 
value, the material infrastructure of things, and the body as the 
material infrastructure of desire. A one-dimensional culture that 
exalts everything in the “concreteness of production” or of 
pleasure - unlimited mechanical labour or copulation. What 
is obscene about this world is that nothing is left to appear¬ 
ances, or to chance. Everything is a visible, necessary sign. Like 
those dolls, adorned with genitalia, that talk, pee; and will one 
day make love. And the little girl’s reaction: “My little sister, she 
knows how to do that too. Can’t you give me a real one?” 

★ ★ * 

From the discourse of labour to the discourse of sex, from 
the discourse of productive forces to that of drives, one finds 
the same ultimatum, that of pro-duction in the literal sense of 
the term. Its original meaning, in fact, was not to fabricate, but 
to render visible or make appear. Sex is produced like one 
produces a document, or as one says of an actor that he per¬ 
forms (se produit) on stage. 

To produce is to materialize by force what belongs to another 
order, that of the secret and of seduction. Seduction is, at all 
times and in all places, opposed to production. Seduction re¬ 
moves something from the order of the visible, while produc¬ 
tion constructs everything in full view, be it an object, a number 
or concept. 

Everything is to be produced, everything is to be legible, 
everything is to become real, visible, accountable; everything 
is to be transcribed in relations of force, systems of concepts 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 35 


or measurable energy; everything is to be said, accumulated, 
indexed and recorded. This is sex as it exists in pornography, 
but more generally, this is the enterprise of our entire culture, 
whose natural condition is obscene: a culture of monstration, 
of demonstration, of productive monstrosity. 

No seduction here, nor in pornography, given the abrupt 
production of sexual acts, and the ferocity of pleasure in its 
immediacy. There is nothing seductive about bodies traversed 
by a gaze literally sucked in by a vacuum of transparency; nor 
can there be even a hint of seduction within the universe of 
production, where a principle of transparency governs the 
forces belonging to the world of visible, calculable phenome¬ 
na - objects, machines, sexual acts, or the gross national 
product. 


★ ★ ★ 

The insoluble equivocalness of pornography: it puts an end to 
all seduction via sex, but at the same time it puts an end to 
sex via the accumulation of the signs of sex. Both triumphant 
parody and simulated agony - there lies its ambiguity. In a sense, 
pornography is true: it owes its truth to a system of sexual dis¬ 
suasion by hallucination, dissuasion of the real by the hyper- 
real, and of the body by its forced materialization. 

Pornography is usually faulted for two reasons - for 
manipulating sex in order to defuse the class struggle (always 
the old “mystified consciousness”) and for corrupting sex (the 
good, true sex, the sex to be liberated, the sex to be considered 
amongst our natural rights) by its commodification. Pornogra¬ 
phy, then, is said to mask either the truth of capital and the in¬ 
frastructure, or that of sex and desire. But in fact pornography 
does not mask anything (yes, that is indeed the case). It is not 
an ideology, i.e., it does not hide some truth; it is a simulacrum, 
i.e., it is a truth effect that hides the truth’s non-existence. 

Pornography says: there must be good sex somewhere, for 
I am its caricature. In its grotesque obscenity, it attempts to save 
sex’s truth and provide the faltering sexual model with some 
credibility. Now, the whole question is whether good sex ex¬ 
ists, or whether, quite simply, sex exists, somewhere - sex as 


36 SEDUCTION 


the body’s ideal use value, sex as possible pleasures which can 
and must be “liberated.” It is the same question demanded of 
political economy: is there “good” value, an ideal use value be¬ 
yond exchange value understood as the inhuman abstraction 
of capital - an ideal value of goods or social relations which 
can and must be “liberated”? 


SEDUCTION / PRODUCTION 


In reality, pornography is but the paradoxical limit of the sex¬ 
ual. A “realistic” exacerbation, a maniacal obsession with the 
real: this is the obscene, in the etymological and every other 
sense. But is not the sexual itself already a forced materializa¬ 
tion? Is not the advent of sexuality already part of occidental 
realistics, the compulsion proper to our culture to instantiate 
and instrumentalize everything? 

It is absurd, when speaking of other cultures, to dissociate 
religion, economics, politics, and the legal system (i.e., the so¬ 
cial and other classificatory phantasmagorias), for the reason that 
such a dissociation has not occurred, these concepts being like 
so many diseases with which we infect these cultures in order 
to better “understand” them. In the same manner, it is absurd 
to autonomize the sexual as a separate instance, an irreducible 
given, as something to which other instances or givens can be 
reduced. We need a critique of sexual Reason, or rather, a 
geneology of sexual Reason similar to Nietzche’s geneology of 
good and evil, for it is our new morality. One might say of sex¬ 
uality, as of death: “it is a new wrinkle to which consciousness 
became accustomed not so long ago.” 

We remain perplexed and vaguely compassionate when con¬ 
fronted with cultures for which the sexual act is not a finality 


38 SEDUCTION 


in itself, for which sexuality does not have the mortal serious¬ 
ness of an energy to be liberated, of an ejaculation to be forced, 
a production at any price, or hygienic auditing of the body. Cul¬ 
tures that preserve lengthy procedures of enticement and sen¬ 
suality, long series of gifts and counter-gifts, with sex being but 
one service amongst others, and the act of love one possible 
end-term to a prescribed, ritualistic interchange. Such proceed¬ 
ings no longer make sense to us; sex has become, strictly speak¬ 
ing, the actualization of desire in pleasure - all else is literature. 
An extraordinary crystalization around the orgasmic, and more 
generally, the energizing function. 

Ours is a culture of premature ejaculation. Increasingly all 
seduction, all manner of enticement - which is always a high¬ 
ly ritualized process - is effaced behind a naturalized sexual 
imperative, behind the immediate and imperative! realization of 
desire. Our center of gravity has been displaced towards a libidi- 
nal economy concerned with only the naturalization of desire, 
a desire dedicated to drives, or to a machine-like functioning, 
but above all, to the imaginary of repression arid liberation. 

Henceforth one no longer says: “You have a soul and it must 
be saved,” but: 1 

“You have a sex, and you must put it to good 
use.” !' 

“You have an unconscious, and you must : let the 
id speak.” 

“You have a body, and you must derive pleas¬ 
ure from it.” 

“You have a libido, and you must expend it,” etc. 

This pressure towards liquidity, flux and the accelerated ar¬ 
ticulation of the sexual, psychic and physical body is an exact 
replica of that which regulates exchange value: capital must cir¬ 
culate, there must no longer be any fixed point, investments 
must be ceaselessly renewed, value must radiate without respite 
- this is the form of value’s present realization, and sexuality, 
the sexual model , is simply its mode of appearance at the level 
of the body. 

As a model sex takes the form of an individual enterprise 
based on natural energy: to each his desire and may the best 
man prevail (in matters of pleasure). It is the selfsame form as 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 39 


capital, and this is why sexuality, desire and pleasure are 
subaltern values. When they first appeared, not so long ago, 
as a system of reference on the horizon of western culture, it 
was as fallen, residual values - the ideal of inferior classes, the 
bourgeoisie, then the petty-bourgeoisie - relative to the 
aristocratic values of birth and blood, valour and seduction, 
or the collective values of religion and sacrifice. 

Moreover, the body - this selfsame body to which we cease¬ 
lessly refer - has no other reality than that implied by the sex¬ 
ual and productive model. It is capital that, in a single 
movement, gives rise to both the energizing body of labour 
power, and the body of our dreams, a sanctuary of desires and 
drives, of psychic energy and the unconscious, the impulsive 
body that haunts the primary processes - the body itself hav¬ 
ing become a primary process, and thereby an anti-body, an 
ultimate revolutionary referent. The two bodies are simultane¬ 
ously engendered in repression, and their apparent antagonism 
is but a consequence of their reduplication. When one uncovers 
in the body’s secret places an “unbound” libidinal energy op¬ 
posed to the “bound” energy of the productive body, when 
one uncovers in desire the truth of the body’s phantasms and 
drives, one is still only disintering the psychic metaphor of 
capital. 

Here is your desire, your unconscious: a psychic metaphor 
of capital in the rubbish heap of political economy And the 
sexual jurisdiction is but a fantastic extension of the common¬ 
place ideal of private property, where everyone is assigned a 
certain amount of capital to manage: a psychic capital, a libidi¬ 
nal, sexual or unconscious capital, for which each person will 
have to answer individually, under the sign of his or her own 
liberation. 

A fantastic reduction of seduction. This sexuality transformed 
by the revolution of desire, this mode of bodily production and 
circulation has acquired its present character, has come to be 
spoken of in terms of “sexual relations,” only by forgetting all 
forms of seduction - just as one can speak of the social in terms 
of “relations” or “social relations,” only after it has lost all sym¬ 
bolic substance. 

Wherever sex has been erected into a function, an autono- 



40 SEDUCTION 


mous instance, it has liquidated seduction. Sex today generally 
occurs only in the place, and in place of a missing seduction, 
or as the residue and staging of a failed seduction. It is then 
the absent form of seduction that is hallucinated sexually - 
in the form of desire. The modern theory of desire draws its 
force from seduction’s liquidation. j 

Henceforth, in place of a seductive form, there is a produc¬ 
tive form, an “economy” of sex: the retrospective of a drive, 
the hallucination of a stock of sexual energy, of an unconscious 
in which the repression of desire and its clearance are inscribed. 
All this (and the psychic in general) results from the autonomi- 
zation of sex - as nature and the economy were once the precipi¬ 
tate of the autonomization of production. Nature and desire, 
both of them idealized, succeed each other in the progressive 
designs for liberation, yesterday the liberation of the produc¬ 
tive forces, today that of the body and sex. j 

One can speak of the birth of the sexual and of sex speech 

- just as one speaks of the birth of the clinic andjclinical gaze 

- where once there was nothing , if not uncontrolled, unstable, 

insensate, or else highly ritualized forms. Where too, it follows, 
there was no repression, this thematic with which we have bur¬ 
dened all previous societies even more than our own. We con¬ 
demn them as primitive from a technological perspective, but 
also from a. sexual or psychic perspective, for they conceived 
of neither the sexual nor the unconscious. Fortunately, psy¬ 
choanalysis has come along to lift the burden and reveal what 
was hidden. The incredible racism of the truth, the evangeli¬ 
cal racism of the Word and its accession. ' 

Where the sexual does not appear of and for itself, we act 
as though it were repressed; it is our way of saving it. And yet 
to speak of repressed or sublimated sexuality in primitive, feu¬ 
dal or other societies, or simply to speak of “sexuality” and 
the unconscious in such cases, is a sign of profound stupidity. 
It is not even certain that such talk holds the best key to un¬ 
locking our society. On this basis, that is, by calling into ques¬ 
tion the very hypothesis of sexuality, by questioning sex and 
desire as autonomous instances, it is possible to agree with Fou¬ 
cault and say (though not for the same reasons) that in our cul¬ 
ture too there is no and never has been any repression either. 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 41 


Sexuality as a discourse is, like political economy (and every 
other discursive system), only a montage or simulacrum which 
has always been traversed, thwarted and exceeded by actual 
practice. The coherence and transparency of homo sexualis has 
no more existence than the coherence and transparency of 
homo economicus. 

It is a long process that simultaneously establishes the psy¬ 
chic and the sexual, that establishes the “other scene,” that of 
the phantasy and the unconscious, at the same time as the ener¬ 
gy produced therein - a psychic energy that is merely a direct 
consequence of the staged hallucination of repression, an energy 
hallucinated as sexual substance, which is then metaphorized 
and metonymized according to the various instances (topical, 
economic, etc.), and according to all the modalities of secon¬ 
dary and tertiary repression. Psychoanalysis, this most admira¬ 
ble edifice, the most beautiful hallucination of the back-world, 
as Nietzsche would say. The extraordinary effectiveness of this 
model for the simulation of scenes and energies - an extraor¬ 
dinary theoretical psychodrama, this staging of the psyche, this 
scenario of sex as a separate instance and insurmountable real¬ 
ity (akin to the hypostatization of production). What does it 
matter if the economic, the biological or the psychic bear the 
costs of this staging - of what concern is the “scene” or “the 
other scene”: it is the entire scenario of sexuality (and psy¬ 
choanalysis) as a model of simulation that should be questioned. 

★ * ★ 

It is true that in our culture the sexual has triumphed over 
seduction, and annexed it as a subaltern form. Our instrumen¬ 
tal vision has inverted everything. For in the symbolic order 
seduction is primary, and sex appears only as an addendum. 
Sex in this latter order is like the recovery in an analytic cure, 
or a birth in a story of Levi-Strauss; it comes as an extra, without 
a relation of cause to effect. This is the secret of “symbolic ef- 
ficacity”: the world’s workings are the result of a mental seduc¬ 
tion . Thus the butcher Tchouang-Tseu whose understanding 
enabled him to describe the cow’s interstitial structure without 
ever having used the blade of a knife: a sort of symbolic reso- 



42 SEDUCTION ; 

I 

I 

lution that, as an addendum, has a practical result. 

Seduction too works on the mode of symbolic! articulation, 
of a duel* affinity with the structure of the other - sex may 
result, as an addendum, but not necessarily. More generally, 
seduction is a challenge to the very’ existence of the, sexual order. 
And if our “liberation” seems to have reversed the terms and 
successfully challenged the order of seduction, it is by no me¬ 
ans certain that its victory is not hollow. The question of the 
ultimate superiority of the ritual logics of challenge and seduc¬ 
tion over the economic logics of sex and production still re¬ 
mains unresolved. \ 

For revolutions and liberations are fragile, while seduction 
is inescapable. It is seduction that lies in wait for them - seduced 
as they are, despite everything, by the immense Setbacks that 
turn them from their truth - and again it is seduction that awaits 
them even in their triumph. The sexual discourse itself is con¬ 
tinually threatened with saying something other; than what it 
says. j 

In an American film a guy pursues a street-walker, prudent¬ 
ly, according to form. The woman responds, aggressively: “What 
do you.want? Do you want to jump me? Then, change your 
approach! Say, I want to jump you!” and the guy,!troubled, re¬ 
plies: “yes, I want to jump you.” “Then go fuck yourself!” And 
later, when he is driving her in his car: “I’ll make coffee, and 
then you can jump me.” In fact, this cynical conversation, which 
appears objective, functional, anatomical, and without nuance, 
is only a game. Play, challenge, and provocation are just beneath 
the surface. Its very brutality is rich with the inflections of love 
and complicity. It is a new manner of seduction. 

Or this conversation taken from The Schizophrenics ’ Ball by 
Philip Dick: j 

“Take me to your room and fuck me.” | 

“There is something indefinable in your vocabu¬ 
lary, something left to be desired.” i 

One can understand this as: Your proposition is unaccepta¬ 
ble, it lacks the poetry of desire, it is too direct. But in a sense the 
text says the exact opposite: that the proposition has some- 

* Trans, note: In French, the word duel means both duel/dual. Baudrillard is clear¬ 
ly playing on the double meaning of the word - agonal relations and reciprocal 
challenges. I translate the term ‘duel’, even in its adjectival form. 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 43 


thing “indefinable” about it, which thereby opens the path to 
desire. A direct sexual invitation is too direct to be true, and 
immediately refers to something else. 

The first version deplores the obscenity of the conversation. 
The second is more subtle; it is capable of disclosing a twist 
to obscenity - obscenity as an enticement, and thus as an “in¬ 
definable” allusion to desire. An obscenity too brutal to be true, 
and too impolite to be dishonest - obscenity as a challenge and 
therefore, again, as seduction. 

In the last instance, a purely sexual statement, a pure demand 
for sex, is impossible. One cannot be free of seduction, and 
the discourse of anti-seduction is but its last metamorphosis. 

It is not just that a pure discourse of sexual demand is ab¬ 
surd given the complexity of affective relations; it quite sim¬ 
ply does not exist. To believe in sex’s reality and in the possibility 
of speaking sex without mediation is a delusion - the delusion 
of every discourse that believes in transparency; it is also that 
of functional, scientific, and all other discourses with claims 
to the truth. Fortunately, the latter is continually undermined, 
dissipated, destroyed, or rather, circumvented, diverted, and 
seduced. Surreptitiously they are turned against themselves; sur¬ 
reptitiously they dissolve into a different game, a different set 
of stakes. 

To be sure, neither pornography nor sexual transactions ex¬ 
ercise any seduction. Like nudity, and like the truth, they are 
abject. They are the body’s disenchanted form, just as sex is 
the suppressed and disenchanted form of seduction, just as use 
value is the disenchanted form of the object, and just as, more 
generally, the real is the suppressed and disenchanted form of 
the world. 

Nudity will never abolish seduction, for it immediately be¬ 
comes something else, the hysterical enticements of a differ¬ 
ent game, one that goes beyond it. There is no degree zero, no 
objective reference, no point of neutrality, but always and again, 
stakes. Today all our signs appear to be converging - like the 
body in nudity and meaning in truth - towards some conclu¬ 
sive objectivity, an entropic and metastable form of the neu¬ 
tral. (What else is the ideal-typical, vacationing nude body, given 
over to the sun, itself hygenic and neutralized, with its luciferi- 




44 SEDUCTION 


an parody of burning). But is there ever a cessation of signs 
at some zero point of the real or the neutral? Isn’t there always 
a reversion of the neutral itself into a new spiral of stakes, seduc¬ 
tion and death. 

What seduction used to lie concealed in sex? What new seduc¬ 
tion, what new challenge lies concealed in the abolition of what, 
within sex, was once at stake? (The same question on another 
plane: What challenge, what source of fascination, lies concealed 
in the masses, in the abolition of what was once at stake with 
the social?) 

All descriptions of disenchanted systems, all hypotheses about 
the disenchantment of systems - the flood of simulation and 
dissuasion, the abolition of symbolic processes, the death of 
referentials - are perhaps false. The neutral is never neutral; it 
becomes an object of fascination. But does it then become an 
object of seduction? 

★ ★ ★ 

Agonistic logics, logics of ritual and seduction, are stronger 
than sex. Like power, sex never has the last word. In The Em¬ 
pire of The Senses , a film that from end to end is occupied with 
the sex act, the latter, by its very persistence, comes to be pos¬ 
sessed by the logic of another order. The film is unintelligible 
in terms of sex, for sexual pleasure, by itself, leads to every¬ 
thing but death. But the madness that seizes hold of the cou¬ 
ple (a madness only for us, in reality it is a rigourous logic) 
pushes them to extremes, where meaning no longer has sense 
and the exercise of the senses is not in the least sensual. Nor 
is it intelligible in terms of mysticism or metaphysics. Its logic 
is one of challenge, impelled by the two partners outbidding 
each other. Or more precisely, the key event is the passage from 
a logic of pleasure at the beginning, where the man leads the 
game, to a logic of challenge and death, that occurs under the 
impetus of the woman - who thereby becomes the game’s mis¬ 
tress, even if at first she was only a sexual object. It is the femi¬ 
nine principle that brings about the reversal of sex/value into 
an agonistic logic of seduction. 

There is here no perversion or morbid drive, no interpreta- 



THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 45 


tion drawn from our psycho-sexual frontiers, no “affinity” of 
Eros for Thanatos nor any ambivalence of desire. It is not a mat¬ 
ter of sex, nor of the unconscious. The sexual act is viewed 
as a ritual act, ceremonial or warlike, for which (as in ancient 
tragedies on the theme of incest) death is the mandatory denoue¬ 
ment, the emblematic form of the challenge’s fulfillment. 

★ ★ ★ 

Thus the obscene can seduce, as can sex and pleasure. Even 
the most anti-seductive figures can become figures of seduc¬ 
tion. (It has been said of the feminist discourse that, beyond 
its total absence of seduction, there lies a certain homosexual 
allure). These figures need only move beyond their truth into 
a reversible configuration, a configuration that is also that of 
their death. The same holds true for that figure of anti-seduction 
par excellence, power. 

Power seduces. But not in the vulgar sense of the masses’ 
desire for complicity (a tautology that ultimately seeks to ground 
seduction in the desire of others). No, power seduces by virtue 
of the reversibility that haunts it, and on which a minor cycle 
is instituted. No more dominant and dominated, no more vic¬ 
tims and executioners (but “exploiters” and “exploited,” they 
certainly exist, though quite separately, for there is no reversi¬ 
bility in production - but then nothing essential happens at 
this level). No more separate positions: power is realized ac¬ 
cording to a duel relation, whereby it throws a challenge to so¬ 
ciety, and its existence is challenged in return. If power cannot 
be “exchanged” in accord with this minor cycle of seduction, 
challenge and ruse, then it quite simply disappears. 

At bottom, power does not exist. The unilateral character of 
of the relation of forces on which the “structure” and “reali¬ 
ty” of power and its perpetual movement are supposedly in¬ 
stituted, does not exist. This is the dream of power imposed 
by reason, not its reality. Everything seeks its own death, in¬ 
cluding power. Or rather, everything demands to be exchanged, 
reversed, and abolished within a cycle (this is why neither 
repression nor the unconscious exist, for reversibility is always 
already there). This alone is profoundly seductive. Power 


46 SEDUCTION 


seduces only when it becomes a challenge to itself; otherwise 
it is just an exercise, and satisfies only the hegemonic logic of 
reason. 

Seduction is stronger than power because it is reversible and 
mortal, while power, like value, seeks to be irreversible, cumula¬ 
tive and immortal. Power partakes of all the illusions of produc¬ 
tion, and of the real; it wants to be real, and so tends to become 
its own imaginary, its own superstition (with the help of the¬ 
ories that analyze it, be they to contest it). Seduction, on the 
other hand, is not of the order of the real - and is never of the 
order of force, nor relations of force. But precisely for this rea¬ 
son, it enmeshes all power’s real actions, as well as the entire 
reality of production, in this unremitting reversibility and dis- 
accumulation - without which there would be neither power 
nor accumulation. 

It is the emptiness behind, or at the very heart of power and 
production; it is this emptiness that today gives them their last 
glimmer of reality. Without that which reverses, annuls, and 
seduces them, they would never have had the authority of 
reality. 

The real, moreover, has never interested anyone. It is a place 
of disenchantment, a simulacrum of accumulation against death. 
And there is nothing more tiresome. What sometimes renders 
the real fascinating - and the truth as well - is the imaginary 
catastrophe which lies behind it . Do you think that power, sex, 
economics - all these real, really big things - would have held 
up for a single moment unless sustained by fascination, a fasci¬ 
nation that comes precisely from the mirror image in which 
they are reflected, from their continuous reversion, the palpa¬ 
ble pleasure borne of their imminent catastrophe? 

The real, particularly in the present, is nothing more than 
the stockpiling of dead matter, dead bodies and dead language 
- a residual sedimentation. Still we feel more secure when the 
stock of reality is assessed (the ecological lament speaks of 
material energies, but it conceals that what is disappearing is 
the real’s energy, the real’s reality, the possibility of its manage¬ 
ment, whether capitalist or revolutionary). If the horizon of 
production is beginning to vanish, that of speech, sex or desire 
can still take up the slack. To liberate, to give pleasure, to give 


/ 

c 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 47 

a speech, to give speech to others: this is real, it is something 
substantial, with a prospect of stocks. And, therefore, it is power. 

Unfortunately not. That is to say, not for long. This “reality” 
is slowly dissipating. One wants sex, like power, to become an 
irreversible instance, and desire an irreversible energy (a stock 
of energy - desire, need it be said, is never far from capital). 
For we grant meaning only to what is irreversible: accumula¬ 
tion, progress, growth, production. Value, energy and desire 
imply irreversible processes - that is the very meaning of their 
liberation. (Inject the smallest dose of reversibility into our eco¬ 
nomic, political, sexual or institutional mechanisms, and every¬ 
thing collapses). This is what today assures sexuality of its 
mythical authority over hearts and bodies. But it is also what 
lies behind the fragility of sex, and of the entire edifice of 
production. 

Seduction is stronger than production. It is stronger than sex¬ 
uality, with which it must never be confused. It is not some¬ 
thing internal to sexuality, though this is what it is generally 
reduced to. It is a circular, reversible process of challenges, 
oneupmanship and death. It is, on the contrary, sex that is the 
debased form, circumscribed as it is by the terms of energy and 
desire. 

Seduction’s entanglement with production and power, the 
irruption of a minimal reversibility within every irreversible 
process, such that the latter are secretly undermined, while 
simultaneously ensured of that minimal continuum of pleas¬ 
ure without which they would be nothing - this is what must 
be analyzed. At the same time knowing that production con¬ 
stantly seeks to eliminate seduction in order to establish itself 
on an economy of relations of force alone; and that sex, the 
production of sex, seeks to eliminate seduction in order to es¬ 
tablish itself on an economy of relations of desire alone. 

★ ★ ★ 

This is why one must completely turn round what Foucault 
has to say in The History of Sexuality /, while still accepting 
its central hypothesis. Foucault sees only the production of sex 
as discourse. He is fascinated by the irreversible deployment 



48 SEDUCTION 


and interstitial saturation of a field of speech, which is at the 
same time the institution of a field of power, culminating in 
a field of knowledge that reflects (or invents) it. But from 
whence does power derive its somnambulistic functionality, this 
irresistible vocation to saturate space? If neither sociality nor 
sexuality exist unless reclaimed and staged by power, perhaps 
power too does not exist unless reclaimed and staged by 
knowledge (theory). In which case, the entire ensemble should 
be placed in simulation, and this too perfect mirror inverted, 
even if the “truth effects” it produces are marvelously 
decipherable. 

Furthermore, the equation of power with knowledge, this 
convergence of mechanisms over a field of rule they have seem¬ 
ingly swept clean, this conjunction described by Foucault as 
complete and operational, is perhaps only the concurrence of 
two dead stars whose last glimmerings still illuminate each other, 
though they have lost their own radiance? In their original, 
authentic phase, knowledge and power were opposed to each 
other, sometimes violently (as were, moreover, sex and pow¬ 
er). But if today they are merging, is this not due to the progres¬ 
sive extenuation of their reality principle, of their distinctive 
characteristics, their specific energies? Their conjunction then 
would herald not a reinforced positivity, but a twin indifferen¬ 
tiation, at the end of which only their phantoms would remain, 
mingling amongst themselves, left to haunt us. 

In the last instance, behind the apparent stasis of knowledge 
and power which appears to arise from all sides, there would 
lie only the metastasis of power, the cancerous proliferation 
of a disturbed, disorganized structure. If power today is gener¬ 
al, and can be detected at all levels (“molecular” power), if it 
has become cancerous, with its cells proliferating uncontrolla¬ 
bly, without regard to the good old “genetic code” of politics, 
this is because it is itself afflicted and in a state of advanced 
decomposition. Or perhaps it is afflicted with hyperreality and 
in an acute crisis of simulation (the cancerous proliferation of 
only the signs of power) and, accordingly, has reached a state 
of general diffusion and saturation. Its somnambulistic opera- 
tionality. 

One must therefore always wager on simulation and take the 


THE ECLIPTIC OF SEX 49 


signs from behind - signs that, when taken at face value and 
in good faith, always lead to the reality and evidence of power. 
Just as they lead to the reality and evidence of sex and produc¬ 
tion. It is this positivism that must not be taken at face value; 
and it is to this reversion of power in simulation one must de¬ 
vote one’s efforts. Power will never do it by itself; and Foucault’s 
text should be criticized for failing to do it and, therefore, for 
reviving the illusion of power. 

The whole, obsessed as it is with maximizing power and sex, 
must be questioned as to its emptiness. Given its obsession with 
power as continuous expansion and investment, one must ask 
it the question of the reversion of the space of power, and of 
the reversion of the space of sex and its speech. Given its fasci¬ 
nation with production, one must ask it the question of 
seduction. 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 




THE SACRED HORIZON OF APPEARANCES 


Seduction takes from discourse its sense and turns it from 
its truth. It is, therefore, contrary to the psychoanalytic distinc¬ 
tion between manifest and latent discourses. For the latent dis¬ 
course turns the manifest discourse not from its truth, but 
towards its truth. It makes the manifest discourse say what it 
does not want to say; it causes determinations and profound 
indeterminations to show through in the manifest discourse. 
Depth always peeks through from behind the break, and mean¬ 
ing peeks from behind the line. The manifest discourse has the 
status of an appearance, a laboured appearance, traversed by 
the emergence of meaning. Interpretation is what breaks the 
appearance and play of the manifest discourse and, by taking 
up with the latent discourse, delivers the real meaning. 

In seduction, by contrast, it is the manifest discourse - dis¬ 
course at its most superficial - that turns back on the deeper 
order (whether conscious or unconscious) in order to invali¬ 
date it, substituting the charm and illusion of appearances. These 
appearances are not in the least frivolous, but occasions for a 
game and its stakes, and a passion for deviation - the seduc¬ 
tion of the signs themselves being more important than the 
emergence of any truth - which interpretation neglects and des¬ 
troys in its search for hidden meanings. This is why interpreta¬ 
tion is what, par excellence, is opposed to seduction, and why 



54 SEDUCTION 


it is the least seductive of discourses. Not only does it subject 
the domain of appearances to incalculable daniage, but this 
privileged search for hidden meanings may well be profound¬ 
ly in error. For it is not somewhere else, in a hinterwelt or an 
unconscious, that one will find what leads discourse astray. What 
truly displaces discourse, “seduces” it in the literal sense, and 
renders it seductive, is its very appearance, its inflections, its 
nuances, the circulation (whether aleatory and senseless, or ritu¬ 
alized and meticulous) of signs at its surface. It is this that ef¬ 
faces meaning and is seductive, while a discourse’s meaning has 
never seduced anyone. All meaningful discourse seeks to end 
appearances: this is its attraction, and its imposture. It is also 
an impossible undertaking. Inexorably, discourse is left to its 
appearances, and thus to the stakes of seduction, thus to its own 
failure as discourse. But perhaps discourse is secretly tempt¬ 
ed by this failure, by the bracketing of its objectives, of its truth 
effects which become absorbed within a surface that swallows 
meaning. This is what happens at first, when discourse seduces 
itself, it is the original form by which discourse becomes ab¬ 
sorbed within itself and emptied of its truth in order to better 
fascinate others: the primitive seduction of language. 

Every discourse is complicit in this rapture, in this deviation, 
and if it does not do it itself, then others will do: it in its place. 
All appearances conspire to combat and root out meaning 
(whether intentional or otherwise), and turn it into a game, into 
another of the game’s rules, a more arbitrary rule - or into 
another elusive ritual, one that is more adventurous and seduc¬ 
tive than the directive line of meaning. What discourse must 
fight against is not so much the unconscious secret as the su¬ 
perficial abyss of its own appearance; and if discourse must tri¬ 
umph over something, it is not over phantasies and 
hallucinations heavy with meaning and misinterpretation, but 
the shiny surface of non-sense and all the games that the latter 
renders possible. It was only a short while ago that one suc- 
ceeeded in eliminating this stake of seduction (which has as 
its concern the sacred horizon of appearances) in order to sub¬ 
stitute a stake “in depth,” a stake in the unconscious, or in in¬ 
terpretation. But this substitution is fragile and ephemeral. No 
one knows if the reigning obsession with latent discourse one 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 55 


finds in psychoanalysis (which in effect, generalizes the vio¬ 
lence of interpretation to all levels), if this mechanism with 
which one has eliminated (or sought to eliminate) all seduction 
is not itself a model of simulation - a rather fragile one that 
gives itself the semblance of being insurmountable in order to 
better conceal all parallel effects, and most notably, the effects 
of seduction that are beginning to work their damage. For what 
is most damaging to psychoanalysis is the realization that the 
unconscious seduces: it seduces by its dreams and by its con¬ 
cept; it seduces as soon as the id speaks and even as the id wishes 
to speak. A double structure emerges, a parallel structure of the 
connivance of the signs of the unconscious and their exchange, 
which eats away at the other structure, the hard, pure struc¬ 
ture of unconscious “labour” and transference and counter¬ 
transference. The entire psychoanalytic edifice perishes of its 
own seduction, and with it all the others. Let us be analysts 
for one blazing instant, and say that it is the revenge of the 
repressed, the repression of seduction, that is at the origin of 
psychoanalysis as a “science,” within the intellectural trajecto¬ 
ry of Freud himself. 

★ ★ ★ 

The Freudian oeuvre unfolds between two poles that radi¬ 
cally put into question the intermediary construction, these 
poles being seduction and the death drive. We have already 
spoken in L’Echange symbolique et la mort of the latter, consi¬ 
dered as an inversion of the earlier psychoanalytic apparatus 
(topical, economic). Regarding the former, which after numer¬ 
ous turns links up with the death drive by some secret affinity, 
one has to say that it appears as psychoanalysis’ lost object. 

It is classic to consider Freud’s abandonment of 
the theory of seduction (1907) as a decisive step 
in the emergence of psychoanalytic theory and in 
moving to the foreground the notions of uncons¬ 
cious phantasy, psychic reality, infantile sexuality, 
etc. 

Laplanche and Pontalis 
Vocabulaire de la psychanalyse 



56 SEDUCTION 


Seduction, as an original form, is considered related to the 
state of the “primal phantasy’’and thus treated, according to a 
logic that is not longer its own, as a residue, a vestige, or 
screen/formation in the henceforth triumphant logic and struc¬ 
ture of psychic and sexual reality. But instead of considering 
seduction’s downgrading as necessary to psychoanalysis’ 
growth, one shoud think of it as a crucial event, heavy with 
consequences. As we know, seduction will disappear from psy¬ 
choanalytic discourse, or will reappear only to be burried and 
forgotten, in accord with a logical repetition of the foundational 
act of denial by the master himself. It is not simply set aside 
as something secondary relative to the more decisive elements 
like infantile sexuality, repression, Oedipus, etc.; it is denied as 
a dangerous form that could well threaten the development and 
coherence of the ulterior edifice. 

Exactly the same thing occurs in Saussure as in Freud. Saus- 
sure also began, in the Anagrammes, with a description of a 
form of language, or more precisely, of its subversion - a ritu¬ 
alized, meticulous form of the deconstruction of meaning and 
value. But then he took it all back and moved on to the con¬ 
struction of linguistics. Was this turn due to the manifest failure 
of his attempted proofs, or did it involve a renunciation of the 
anagrammatical challenge in order to undertake the more con¬ 
structive, durable and scientific development of the mode of 
production of meaning, to the exclusion of its possible sub¬ 
version? But what does it matter, the fact is that linguistics was 
born from this irrevocable redeployment, and it constitutes the 
fundamental axiom and rule for all those who continue Saus- 
sure’s work. One does not return to the scene of, the crime, and 
the forgetting of the original murder is part of the logical and 
triumphant unfolding of science. All the energy of the dead ob¬ 
ject and its last rites passes into the simulated resurrection of 
the living. Still it must be said that Saussure, at least, had the 
intutition towards the end that his linguistic enterprise had failed, 
leaving a hovering uncertainty, the glimpse of a weakness, of 
the possibly illusory character of so beautiful a mechanism of 
substitution. But such scruples, within which one can perceive 
something of the premature and violent burial of the 
Anagrammes, would be totally foreign to his heirs, who remain 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 57 


content to manage the discipline without ever touching on the 
idea of an abyss of language, an abyss of linguistic seduction, 
a radically different operation that absorbs rather than produces 
meaning. The sarcophagus of linguistics was tightly sealed, and 
fell upon the shroud of the signifier. 

* ★ ★ 

Thus the shroud of psychoanalysis has fallen over seduction, 
the shroud of hidden meanings and of a hidden excess of mean¬ 
ing, at the expense of the surface of absorption, the superficial 
abyss of appearances, the instantaneous and panicky surface 
of the exchange and rivalry of signs constituted by seduction 
(hysteria being but a “symptomatic” manifestation of the lat¬ 
ter, one that has already been contaminated by the latent struc¬ 
ture of the symptom, and is thus pre-psychoanalytic, thus 
degraded - which is why it was able to,serve as a “conversion 
matrix” for psychoanalysis). Freud abolished seduction in order 
to put into place a machinery of interpretation, and of sexual 
repression, that offer all the characteristics of objectivity and 
coherence. Assuming that one disregards all the internal con¬ 
vulsions of psychoanalysis, be they personal or theoretical, that 
undermine its beautiful coherence - lest all the challenges and 
seductions buried under the discourse’s rigour reemerge like 
the living dead. (But doesn’t this suggest, so the beautiful souls 
will argue, that, at bottom, psychoanalysis is still alive?). Freud 
may have broken with seduction and taken the side of interpre¬ 
tation (at least until the last metapsychology which, very 
definitely, moves in a different direction), but all that was 
repressed by this admirable realignment has reemerged within 
the conflicts and vicissitudes of psychoanalysis’ history, and wi¬ 
thin the course of almost every cure (one is never finished with 
hysteria!). And it is not an inconsiderable source of entertain¬ 
ment to see seduction sweep across psychoanalysis with La¬ 
can, in the wild-eyed form of a play of signifiers from which 
psychoanalysis - in the rigour of its demands and in its form, 
in the form Freud wanted - is dying just as certainly, nay even 
more certainly, as from its institutional banalization. 

The seduction of Lacanianism is, no doubt, an imposture; 


I 


58 SEDUCTION 

but in its own way it corrects, rectifies and atones for the origi¬ 
nal imposture of Freud himself, that of the forclosure of the 
form/seduction to the advantage of a would-be science. The 
Lacanian discourse, which generalizes the seductive practices 
of psychoanalysis, avenges this foreclosed seduction, but in a 
manner that is itself contaminated by psychoanalysis. That is 
to say, the vengeance always occurs within the terms of the Law 
(of the symbolic), resulting in an insidious seduction exercised 
in terms of the law and (of the effigy) of a Master who rules 
by the Word over hysterical masses unfit for pleasure... 

Nonetheless, with Lacan it is still a matter of the death of psy¬ 
choanalysis, of a death due to the triumphant but posthumous 
reemergence of what at the beginning was denied. Isn’t this 
the fulfillment of a destiny? At least psychoanalysis will have 
had the opportunity to end with a Great Impostor after having 
begun with a Great Denial. 

That the most beautiful construction of meaning and interpre¬ 
tation ever erected thus collapses under the weight of its own 
signs, which were once terms heavy with meaning, but have 
once again become devices in an unrestrained seduction, terms 
in an untrammeled exchange that is both complicit with and 
empty of meaning (including in the cure) - this should exalt 
and comfort us. It is a sign that the truth at least (that for which 
impostors reign) will be spared us. And that what might appear 
as psychoanalysis’ failure is but the temptation common to ev¬ 
ery: great system of meaning, to sink into its oiwn image and 
lose its sense - which indeed suggests the return of primitive 
seduction’s flame and the revenge of appearances. But then 
where is the imposture? Having rejected the form/seduction 
from the start, psychoanalysis was perhaps only an illusion - 
an illusion of truth and interpretation - that would be contradict¬ 
ed and counterbalanced by the Lacanian illusion of seduction. 
Thus a cycle is completed, from which perhaps other interroga¬ 
tive and seductive forms will arise. i 

It was the same with God and the Revolution. To dispel all 
appearances so that God’s truth could shine forth was the illu¬ 
sion of the Iconoclasts. An illusion because God’s truth did not 
exist, and perhaps secretly they knew it, this being why their 
failure proceeded from the same intuition as that of the adorers 


1 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 59 


of images: one can live only the idea of altered truth. It is the 
only way to live in conformity with the truth. Otherwise life 
becomes unbearable (precisely because the truth does not ex¬ 
ist). One need not want to dispel appearances (the seduction 
of images). But if one does, it is imperative that one not suc¬ 
ceed lest the absence of the truth become manifest. Or the ab¬ 
sence of God, or the Revolution. The Revolution, and in 
particular its ape-like travesty, Stalinism, lives only by the idea 
that everything is opposed to it. Stalinism is indestructible be¬ 
cause it exists only in order to conceal the non-existence of 
the Revolution and its truth, and thereby to restore hope. “The 
people” Rivarol said, “did not want a Revolution, they wanted 
only its spectacle” - because this is the only way to preserve 
the Revolution’s appeal, instead of abolishing it in its truth. 

“We do not believe that the truth remains true once the veil 
has been lifted” (Nietzsche). 



TROMPE L’OEIL 
OR ENCHANTED SIMULATION 

Disenchanted simulation: pornography - truer than true - 
the height of the simulacrum. 

Enchanted simulation: the trompe-l'oeil - falser than false - 
the secret of appearances. 

Neither fable, story or composition, nor theater, scene or ac¬ 
tion. The trompe I’oeil forgets all this and bypasses it by the 
low-level representation of second-rate objects. The latter figure 
in the great compositions of the time, but here they appear 
alone, as though the discourse on painting had been eliminat¬ 
ed. Suddenly they no longer “represent,” they are no longer 
objects, no longer anything. They are blank, empty signs that 
bespeak a social, religious or artistic anti-ceremony or anti¬ 
representation. Scraps of social life, they turn against the latter 
and parody its theatricality; this is why they are scattered, jux¬ 
taposed at random. The implication being that these objects are 
not objects. They do not describe a familiar reality, as does a 
still life. They describe a void, an absence, the absence of ev¬ 
ery representational hierarchy that organizes the elements of 
a tableau, or for that matter, the political order... 

These are not mere extras displaced from the main scene, 
but ghosts that haunt the emptiness of the stage. Theirs is not 
the aesthetic appeal of painting and resemblance, but the acute, 
metaphysical appeal of the real’s abolition. Haunted objects, 




SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 61 


metaphysical objects, in their unreal reversion they are opposed 
to the entire representative space of the Renaissance. 

Their very insignificance is offensive. Objects without refer¬ 
ents, stripped of their decor - old newspapers, books, nails, 
boards, and scraps of food - isolated, decayed, spectral objects, 
disincarnated from all narrative, they alone were able to trace 
an obsession with a lost reality, something akin to life before 
the subject and his acquisition of consciousness. “For the trans¬ 
parent, allusive image that the art lover expects, the trompe Voeil 
tends to substitute the intractable opacity of Presence” (Pierre 
Charpentrat). Simulacra without perspective, the figures in 
trompe Voeil appear suddenly, with lustrous exactitude, as 
though denuded of the aura of meaning and bathed in ether. 
Pure appearances, they have the irony of too much reality. 

★ * ★ 

There is no nature in the trompe l 'oeil, nor landscapes, skies, 
vanishing points or natural light. Nor faces, psychology or 
historicity. Everything is artifact. A vertical backdrop raises ob¬ 
jects isolated from their referential context to the status of pure 
signs. 

Translucency, suspense, fragility, obsolescence - hence the 
insistence on paper (frayed at the edges), the letter, the mirror 
or watch, the faded, untimely signs of a transcendence that has 
vanished into the quotidian. The mirror of worn-out boards 
whose knots and rings mark the time, like a clock without hands 
that leaves one to guess the hour: these are things that have 
lasted, in a time that has already passed. Anachrony alone stands 
out, the involuted representation of time and space. 

There are no fruits, meats or flowers, no baskets or bouquets, 
nor any of the delightful things found in (a still) life. Nature is 
carnal, and a still life is a carnal arrangement on a horizontal 
plane, that provided by the ground or a table. Although a still 
life may sometimes play with disorder, with the ragged edge 
of things and the fragility of their use, it always retains the gravity 
of real things, as underscored by the horizontalness. Whereas 
the trompe Voeil functions in weightlessness, as indicated by 
the vertical backdrop, everything being suspended, the objects, 



62 SEDUCTION 


time, even light and perspective. While the still life uses classic 
shapes and shades, the shadows borne by the trompe I'oeil lack 
the depth that comes from a real luminous source. Like the ob¬ 
solescence of objects, they are the sign of a slight vertigo, the 
vertigo of a previous life, of an appearance prior to reality. 

This mysterious light without origin, whose oblique rays are 
no longer real, is like stagnant water, water without depth, soft 
to the touch like a natural death. Here things have long since 
lost their shadows (their substance). Something other than the 
sun shines on them, a brighter star, without an atmosphere, or 
with an ether that doesn’t refract. Perhaps death illuminates 
these things directly, and that is their sole meaning? These 
shadows do not move with the sun; they do not grow with the 
evening; without movement, they appear as an inevitable edg¬ 
ing. Not the result of chiaroscuro, nor a skilful dialectic of light 
and shadow (for these are still painterly effects), they suggest 
the transparency of objects to a black sun. , 

One senses that these objects are approaching the black hole 
from which, for us, reality, the real world, and normal time 
emerge. With this forward decentering effect, this advance 
towards the subject of a mirror object, it is the appearance of 
the double, in the guise of trivial objects, that creates the ef¬ 
fect of seduction, the startling impression characteristic of the 
trompe I’oeil-. a tactile vertigo that recounts the subject’s insane 
desire to obliterate his own image, and thereby vanish. For reality 
grips us only when we lose ourselves in it, or when it reap¬ 
pears as our own, hallucinated death. 

A vague physical wish to grasp things, but which having been 
suspended, becomes metaphysical: the objects of the trompe 
l ’oeil have something of the same fantastic vivacity as the child’s 
discovery of his own image, an unmediated hallucination an¬ 
terior to the perceptual order. 

If there is a miracle of trompe I’oeil, it does not lie in the 
realism of its execution, like the grapes of Zeuxis which ap¬ 
peared so real that birds came to peck at them. This is absurd. 
Miracles never result from a surplus of reality but, on the con¬ 
trary, from a sudden break in reality and the giddiness of feel¬ 
ing oneself fall. It is this loss of reality that the surreal familiarity 
of objects translates. With the disintegration of this hierarchi- 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 63 


cal organization of space that privileges the eye and vision, of 
this perspectival simulation - for it is merely a simulacrum - 
something emerges that, for want of something better, we ex¬ 
press in terms of touch, a tactile hyperpresence of things, “as 
though one could hold them.” But this tactile fantasy has noth¬ 
ing to do with our sense of touch; it is a metaphor for the “sei¬ 
zure” resulting from the annihilation of the scene and space 
of representation. Suddenly this seizure rebounds onto the so- 
called “real” world, to reveal that this “reality” is naught but 
a staged world, objectified in accord with the rules of perspec¬ 
tive. “Reality” appears as a principle, one that defines the paint¬ 
ing, sculpture and architecture of the period, but a principle 
nonetheless - that is, a simulacrum which the experimental 
hypersimulation of the trompe I’oeil) undermines. 

★ ★ ★ 

The trompe I’oeil does not seek to confuse itself with the 
real. Consciously produced by means of play and artifice, it 
presents itself as a simulacrum. By mimicking the third dimen¬ 
sion, it questions the reality of this dimension, and by mimicking 
and exceeding the effects of the real, it radically questions the 
reality principle. 

The real is relinquished by the very excess of its appearances. 
The objects resemble themselves too much, this resemblance 
being like a second state; and by virtue of this allegorical resem¬ 
blance, and of the diagonal lighting, they point to the irony of 
too much reality. 

Depth appears to have been turned inside out. While the 
Renaissance organized all space in accord with a distant vanish¬ 
ing point, perspective in the trompe I’oeil is, in a sense, projected 
forward. Instead of fleeing before the panoramic sweep of the 
eye (the privilege of panoptic vision), the objects “fool” the 
eye (‘ 'trompent l ’oeil) by a sort of internal depth - not by caus¬ 
ing one to believe in a world that does not exist, but by under¬ 
mining the privileged position of the gaze. The eye, instead of 
generating a space that spreads out, is but the internal vanish¬ 
ing point for a convergence of objects. A different universe oc¬ 
cupies the foreground, a universe without horizon or 



64 SEDUCTION 


horizontally, like an opaque mirror placed before the eye, with 
nothing behind it. This is, properly speaking, the realm of ap¬ 
pearances, where there is nothing to see, where things see you. 
They do not flee before your gaze, but position themselves in 
front of you, with a light that seems to come from another 
world, with shadows that never quite give them a true third 
dimension. For this dimension, that of perspective, always in¬ 
dicates the bad conscience of the sign relative to reality - a bad 
conscience that has eaten away at all painting since the 
Renaissance. < 

Whence independent of the aesthetic pleasure, comes the 
uncanniness of the trompe I’oeil - the strange light it casts on 
this entirely new, western reality which emerged triumphant 
with the Renaissance. The trompe I’oeil is the ironic simulacrum 
of that reality. It is what surrealism was to the functionalist revo¬ 
lution of the early twentieth century - surrealism being but an 
ironic reverie on the principle of functionality. And like trompe 
I’oeil surrealism is not quite part of art or art history, for their 
concern is with a metaphysical dimension, and not with mat¬ 
ters of style. They attack our sense of reality or functionality 
and, therefore, our sense of consciousness. They seek out the 
wrong or reverse side of things, and undermine the world’s ap¬ 
parent factuality. This is why the pleasure that they give us, their 
seductiveness, however small, is radical; for it comes from a 
radical surprise borne of appearances, from a life prior to the 
mode of production of the real world. 

★ ★ ★ 1 

The trompe I’oeil is no longer confined to painting. Like stuc¬ 
co, its contemporary, it can do anything, mimic or parody any¬ 
thing. It has become the prototype for the malevolent use of 
appearances. What began as a game took on fantastic dimen¬ 
sions in the XVIth century, and ended up eliminating the bound¬ 
aries between painting, sculpture and architecture. In the murals 
and ceiling paintings of the Renaissance and Baroque, painting 
and sculpture converge. In the trompe l 'oeil murals and streets 
of Los Angeles, architecture is deceived and defaced by illu¬ 
sion. The seduction of space by the signs of space. Having said 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 65 


so much about the production of space, is it not time to speak 
about its seduction? 


★ ★ ★ 

And about the seduction of political space. For example, the 
studiolos of the Duke of Urbino and Federigo da Montefeltre 
in the ducal palace of Urbino and Gubbio: tiny sanctuaries en¬ 
tirely in trompe Voeil at the heart of the immense space of the 
palace. The latter exemplifies the triumph of an architectural 
perspective, of a space deployed according to the rules, while 
the studiolo appears as an inverted microcosm. Cut off from 
the rest of the structure, without windows, literally without 
space - here space is, actualized by simulation . If the palace 
as a whole constitutes the architectural act par excellence , the 
manifest discourse of art (and power), then what is one to make 
of the miniscule studiolo that adjoins the chapel like yet another 
sacred place, but with an air of bewitchment? It is not clear 
what is happening with regard to space, and consequently, to 
the entire system of representations that gives order to the palace 
and republic. 

It is a privatissime space, the prerogative of the Prince, like 
incest and transgression were once kingly prerogatives. A com¬ 
plete reversal of the rules of the game is in effect here, allow¬ 
ing us to surmise ironically, by the allegory of the trompe l < oeil , 
that the external space, that of the palace, and beyond it, the 
city, that is, the political space, the locus of power, is itself 
perhaps only an effect of perspective. Such a dangerous secret, 
such a radical hypothesis, the Prince must keep to himself in 
the strictest secrecy: for it is the very secret of his power 

Since Machiavelli politicians have perhaps always known that 
the mastery of a simulated space is at the source of their pow¬ 
er, that politics is not a real activity, but a simulation model, 
whose manifest acts are but actualized impressions. It is this 
blind spot within the palace, cut off from architecture and public 
life, which in a sense reigns supreme, not by direct determina¬ 
tion, but by a sort of internal reversion, by an abrogation of 
the rules enacted in secret, as in primitive rituals. A hole in real¬ 
ity, an ironic transfiguration, an exact simulacrum hidden at the 



66 SEDUCTION 


heart of reality, and on which the latter depends for its func¬ 
tioning. This is the secret of appearances. 

Thus the Pope, the Grand Inquisitor, the great Jesuits and the¬ 
ologians all knew that God did not exist; this was their secret, 
and the secret of their strength. Similarly Montefeltre’s studio- 
lo in trompe I’oeil secretly suggests that, in the last instance, 
reality does not exist, that “real” in-depth space, including po¬ 
litical space, is always potentially reversible - the secret that 
once commanded politics, but which have since been lost in 
the illusion of the masses’ “reality.” 


I’LL BE YOUR MIRROR 


In the trompe I’oeil, whether a mirror or painting, we are 
bewitched by the spell of the missing dimension. It is the lat¬ 
ter that establishes the space of seduction and becomes a source 
of vertigo. For if the divine mission of all things is to find their 
meaning, or to find a structure on which to base their mean¬ 
ing, they also seek, by virtue of a diabolical nostalgia, to lose 
themselves in appearances, in the seduction of their image. That 
it to say, they seek to unite what should be separated into a sin¬ 
gle effect of death and seduction. Narcissus. 

Seduction cannot possibly be represented, because in seduc¬ 
tion the distance between the real and its double, and the dis¬ 
tortion between the Same and the Other, is abolished. Bending 
over a pool of water, Narcissus quenches his thirst. His image 
is no longer “other;” it is a surface that absorbs and seduces 
him, which he can approach but never pass beyond. For there 
is no beyond, just as there is no reflexive distance between him 
and his image. The mirror of water is not a surface of reflec¬ 
tion, but of absorption. 

. This is why of all the great figures of seduction in mytholo¬ 
gy and art - who seduce by a look, a song, an absence, by rouge, 
beauty or monstrosity, by masks or madness, by their fame, but 
also their failure and death - Narcissus stands out with singu¬ 
lar force. 



I 


68 SEDUCTION 

Not a mirror-reflection, in which the subject finds himself 
transformed - not a mirror phase, in which the subject estab¬ 
lishes himself within the imaginary. All this belongs to the psy¬ 
chological domain of alterity and identity, not seduction. 

All reflection theory is impoverished, particularly the idea 
that seduction is rooted in the attraction of like to like, in a mi¬ 
metic exaltation of one’s own image, or an ideal mirage of resem¬ 
blance. Thus Vincent Descombes, in L’Inconscient malgre lui, 
writes: 

What seduces is not some feminine wile, but the 
fact that it is directed at you. It is seductive to be 
seduced, and consequently, it is being seduced that 
is seductive. In other words, the being seduced 
finds himself in the person seducing. What the per¬ 
son seduced sees in the one who seduces him, the 
unique object of his fascination, is his own seduc¬ 
tive, charming self, his lovable self-image... 

It is always a matter of self-seduction and its psychological 
vicissitudes. In the narcissistic myth, however, the mirror does 
not exist so that Narcissus can find within himself some living 
ideal. It is a matter of the mirror as an absence of depth, as a 
superficial abyss, which others find seductive and vertiginous 
only because they are each the first to be swallowed up in it. 

All seduction in this sense is narcissistic, and its secret lies 
with this mortal absorption. Thus women, being closer to this 
other, hidden mirror (with which they shroud their image and 
body) are also closer to the effects of seduction. Men, by con¬ 
trast, have depth, but no secrets; hence their power and fragility. 

If seduction does not proceed from some ideal mirage of the 
subject, nor does it result from the mirror ideal of death. In 
Pausanias’ version: 

Narkissos had a twin sister, they were exactly the 
same to look at with just the same hairstyle and 
the same clothes, and they even used to go hunt¬ 
ing together. Narkissos was in love with his sister, 
and when she died he used to visit the spring; he 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 69 


knew that what he saw was his own reflection, but 
even so he found some relief in telling himself it 
was his sister’s image. 

Guide to Greece. Vol. I, p. 376 

According to H.-P. Jeudy, who accepts this version, Narcis¬ 
sus seduces himself, and conquers his power of seduction, only 
by embracing mimetically the lost image, restored by his own 
face, of his deceased twin sister. 

But is a mimetic relation with the image of the deceased really 
necessary to investigate narcissistic vertigo? In truth, the latter 
has no need of a twin refraction. Its own illusion will do - which 
is perhaps the illusion of its own death. Perhaps death is al¬ 
ways incestuous - a fact that would only add to its spell. The 
“soul sister” is its spiritualized version. The great stories of seduc¬ 
tion, that of Phaedra or Isolde, are stories of incest, and always 
end in death. What are we to conclude, if not that death itself 
awaits us in the age-old temptation of incest, including in the 
incestuous relation we maintain with our own image? We are 
seduced by the latter because it consoles us with the imminent 
death of our sacrilegous existence. Our mortal self-absorption 
with our image consoles us for the irreversibility of our having 
been born and having to reproduce. It is by this sensual, in¬ 
cestuous transaction with our image, our double, and our death, 
that we gain our power of seduction. 

★ ★ ★ 

"I’ll be your mirror ” does not signify I’ll be your reflec¬ 
tion” but “I’ll be your deception.” 

To seduce is to die as reality and reconstitute oneself as il¬ 
lusion. It is to be taken in by one’s own illusion and move in 
an enchanted world. It is the power of the seductive woman 
who takes herself for her own desire, and delights in the self- 
deception in which others, in their turn, will be caught. Nar¬ 
cissus too loses himself in his own illusory image; that is why 
he turns from his truth, and by his example turns others from 
their truth - and so becomes a model of love. 

The strategy of seduction is one of deception. It lies in wait 



70 SEDUCTION 


for all that tends to confuse itself with its reality. And it is poten¬ 
tially a source of fabulous strength. For if production can only 
produce objects or real signs, and thereby obtain some power; 
seduction, by producing only illusions, obtains all powers, in¬ 
cluding the power to return production and reality to their fun¬ 
damental illusion. 

It even lies in wait for the unconscious and desire, by turn¬ 
ing them into a mirror of the unconscious and desire. For the 
latter concerns only drives and their gratification,' while the en¬ 
chantment begins only after one has been taken in by one’s 
desire. It is the illusion that, happily, saves us from “psychic 
reality.” And it is the illusion of psychoanalysis, which confuses 
itself with its own desire for psychoanalysis and thereby enters 
into seduction, into auto-seduction, refracting the latter’s power 
for its own ends. 

Thus all science, reality, and production only postpone the 
due date of seduction, which shines as non-sense, as the sen¬ 
sual and intelligible form of non-sense, in the sky Of their desire. 

The deception’s raison d 'etre. Like the hawk that 
returns to a piece of red leather in the form of a 
bird, is it not the same illusion that, within repe¬ 
tition, confers an absolute reality onto the object 
that wins? Beyond all question of belief, warrant¬ 
ed or unwarranted, the deception is, in a sense, 
recognition of the endless power of seduction. Nar¬ 
cissus, having lost his twin sister, mourns her loss, 
by constituting his own face into an illusory at¬ 
traction. Neither conscious nor unconscious, the 
dupery is fully played out and sufficient unto itself. 

H.-P. Jeudy 

The deception can be inscribed in the sky; its power will not 
be diminished. Every sign of the Zodiac has its form of seduc¬ 
tion. For we all seek the favour of a meaningless fate, and place 
our hopes in the spell that might result from some absolutely 
irrational conjuncture - here lies the strength of of the horo¬ 
scope and zodiacal signs. No one should laugh at astrology, for 
he who no longer seeks to seduce the stars is the sadder for 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 71 


it. In effect, many a person’s misfortune comes from their not 
having a place in the sky, within a field of signs that would agree 
with them - that is to say, in the last instance, from their not 
having been seduced by their birth and its constellation. They 
will bear this fate for life, and their very death will come at the 
wrong time. To fail to be seduced by one’s sign is far more seri¬ 
ous than the failure to have one’s merits rewarded or one’s desire 
gratified. Symbolic discredit is always much more serious than 
a real defect or misfortune. 

Thus the charitable idea of founding an Institute of Zodiacal 
Semiurgy where, just as one’s physical appearance can be cor¬ 
rected by plastic surgery, the injustices of the Sign could be right¬ 
ed and the horoscope’s orphans finally receive the Sign of their 
choice in order that they might be reconciled with themselves. 
It would be a great success, at least the equal of that of the sui¬ 
cide motels where people will come to die in the manner of 
their choosing. 




I 


! 


\ 



DEATH IN SAMARKAND J 


An ellipsis of the sign, an eclipse of meaning: an illusion. The 
mortal distraction that a single sign can cause instantaneously. 

Consider the story of the soldier who meets Death at a cross¬ 
ing in the marketplace, and believes he saw him make a menac¬ 
ing gesture in his direction. He rushes to the king’s palace and 
asks the king for his best horse in order that he might flee dur¬ 
ing the night far from Death, as far as Samarkand. Upon which 
the king summons Death to the palace and reproaches him for 
having frightened one of his best servants.! But Death, 
astonished, replies: “I didn’t mean to frighten him. It was just 
that I was surprised to see this soldier here, when we had a 
rendez-vous tomorrow in Samarkand.” 

Yes, one runs towards one’s fate all the more surely by seek¬ 
ing to escape it. Yes, everyone seeks his own death, and the 
failed acts are the most successful. Yes, signs follow an uncons¬ 
cious course. But all this concerns the truth of the rendez-vous 
in Samarkand; it does not account for the seduction of the sto¬ 
ry, which is in no way an apologue of truth. ! 

What is astounding about the story is that this seemingly in¬ 
evitable rendez-vous need not have taken place. There is noth¬ 
ing to suggest that the soldier would have been in Samarkand 
without this chance encounter, and without the ill-luck of 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 73 


Death’s naive gesture, which acted in spite of itself as a gesture 
of seduction. Had Death been content to call the soldier back 
to order, the story would lose its charm. Everything here is 
hinged on a single, involuntary sign. The gesture does not ap¬ 
pear to be part of a strategy, nor even an unconscious ruse; yet 
it takes on the unexpected depth of seduction, that is, it ap¬ 
pears as something that moves laterally, as a sign that, un¬ 
beknownst to the protagonists (including Death, as well as the 
soldier), advances a deadly command, an aleatory sign behind 
which another conjunction, marvelous or disastrous, is being 
enacted. A conjunction that gives the sign’s trajectory all the 
characteristics of a witticism . 

No one in the story has anything to reproach himself with 
- or else the king who lent his horse, is as guilty as anyone else. 
No. Behind the apparent liberty of the two central characters 
(Death was free to make his gesture, the soldier to flee), they 
were both following a rule of which neither were aware. The 
rule of this game, which, like every fundamental rule, must re¬ 
main secret, is that death is not a brute event, but only occurs 
through seduction , that is, by way of an instantaneous, in¬ 
decipherable complicity, by a sign or signs that will not be 
deciphered in time. 

Death is a rendez-vous, not an objective destiny Death can¬ 
not fail to go since he is this rendez-vous, that is, the allusive 
conjunction of signs and rules which make up the game. At the 
same time, Death is an innocent player in the game. This is what 
gives the story its secret irony, whose resolution appears as a 
stroke of wit [trait d'esprit /, and provides us with such sub¬ 
lime pleasure - and distinguishes it from a moral fable or a vul¬ 
gar tale about the death instinct. The spiritual character [trait 
spirituel] of the story extends the spirited character [trait 
d 'esprit gestuel] of Death’s gesture, and the two seductions, that 
of Death and of the story, fuse together. 

Death’s astonishment is delightful, an astonishment at the fri¬ 
volity of an arrangement where things proceed by chance: “But 
this soldier should have known that he was expected in Samar¬ 
kand tomorrow, and taken his time to get there...” However 
Death shows only surprise, as if his existence did not depend 
as much as the soldier’s on the fact that they were to meet in 



74 SEDUCTION 


i 

! 

i 

i 

i 

i 


Samarkand. Death lets things happen, and it is his casualness 
that makes him appealing - this is why the soldier hastens to 
join him. 

None of this involves the unconscious, metaphysics or psy¬ 
chology. Or even strategy. Death has no plan. He restores chance 
with a chance gesture; this is how he works, yet everything still 
gets done. There is nothing that cannot not be done, yet every¬ 
thing still preserves the lightness of chance, of a furtive gesture, 
an accidental encounter or ah illegible sign. That’s how it is with 
seduction... j 

Moreover, the soldier went to meet death because he gave 
meaning to a meaningless gesture which did not even concern 
him. He took personally something that was notj addressed to 
him, as one might mistake for oneself a smile meant for some¬ 
one else. The height of seduction is to be without seduction. 
The man seduced is caught in spite of himself in a web of stray 
signs. ; 

And it is because the sign has been turned from its meaning 
or “seduced,” that the story itself is seductive. It is when signs 
are seduced that they become seductive. 


Only signs without referents, empty, senseless, absurd and 
elliptical signs, absorb us. j 

A little boy asks a fairy to grant him his wishes. The fairy 
agrees on one condition, that he never think of the colour red 
in the fox’s tail. “Is that all?” he replies offhandedly. And off 
he goes to find happiness. But what happens? He is unable to 
rid himself of this fox’s tail, which he believed he had already 
forgotten. He sees it everywhere, with its red colour, in his 
thoughts, and in his dreams. Despite all his efforts, he cannot 
make it disappear. He becomes obsessed with this absurd, in¬ 
significant, but tenacious image, augmented by all'the spite that 
comes from not having been able to rid himself of it. Not only 
do the fairy’s promises not come true, but he loses his taste for 
life. Perhaps he dies without ever having gotten clear of it. 

An absurd story, but absolutely plausible, for it demonstrates 
the power of the insignificant signifier, the power of a meaning- 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 75 


less signifier. 

The fairy was mischievous (she wasn’t a good fairy). She knew 
that the mind is irresistibly attracted to a place devoid of mean¬ 
ing. Here the emptiness was seemingly provoked by the insig¬ 
nificance (this is why the child was not on his guard) of the 
colour red of a fox’s tail. Elsewhere words and gestures are emp¬ 
tied of their meaning by unflagging repetition and scansion. 
To wear meaning out, to tire it out in order to liberate the pure 
seduction of the null signifier or empty term - such is the 
strength of ritual magic and incantation. 

But it can just as well be a direct fascination with the void, 
as in the physical vertigo of a chasm, or the metaphorical ver¬ 
tigo of a door that opens onto the void. If you were to see writ¬ 
ten on a door panel: “This opens onto the void.” - wouldn’t 
you still want to open it? 

That which looks onto nothing has every reason to be 
opened. That which doesn’t say anything has every reason to 
never be forgotten. That which is arbitrary is simultaneously 
endowed with a total necessity. The predestination of the empty 
sign, the precession of the void, the vertigo of an obligation 
devoid of sense, a passion for necessity. 

Here lies something of the secret of magic (the fairy was a 
magician). The power of words, their “symbolic efficacy” is 
greater when uttered in a void. When they have neither con¬ 
text nor referent, they can take on the power of a self-fulfilling 
(or self-defeating) prophecy. Like the colour red of a fox’s tail. 
Unreal and insubstantial, it proves compelling because of its 
nullity. If the fairy had forbidden the child from doing some¬ 
thing serious or significant, he would have pulled through eas¬ 
ily, instead of being seduced against his will. For it is not the 
prohibition, but its non-sense that seduces him. Thus, against 
all logic, it is the improbable prophecies that come true; all that 
is required is that they not make too much sense. Otherwise 
they would not be prophecies. Such is the bewitchment of mag¬ 
ical speech, such is the sorcery of seduction. 

This is why neither magic nor seduction concerns belief or 
make-believe, for they employ signs without credibility and 
gestures without referents; their logic is not one of mediation, 
but of immediacy, whatever the sign. 



76 SEDUCTION 


Proof is unnecessary. Everybody knows that their spell is car¬ 
ried by the unmediated resonance of the signs. There is no offi¬ 
cial, intermediary time for the sign and its decipherment; it is 
not a matter of believing, doing, wanting, or knowing. Their 
attraction is foreign to the forms of discourse, as well as the 
distinctive logic of the utterance and statement. Their spell be¬ 
longs to the order of declamation and prophecy, a discourse 
whose symbolic effectiveness requires neither decipherment 
nor belief. 


* ★ ★ 

The immediate attraction of a song, a voice or scent. The 
attraction of the panther’s scent (Detienne: Dionysos mis a 
mort). According to the ancients, the panther is the only animal 
to emit a fragrant odour, which it uses to capture its victims. 
The panther has only to hide (his appearance strikes terror), 
and his victims are bewitched by his scent - an invisible trap 
to which they come to be caught. But this power of seduction 
can be turned against the panther: one hunts him by using 
spices, herbs and perfumes as bait. 

But what does it mean to say that the panther seduces by 
its scent? Why is its scent seductive? (And why is this legend 
itself seductive? What sort of fragrance does it emit?) What ac¬ 
counts for the seduction of the song of the Sirens, the beauty 
of a face, the depths of a chasm, or the imminence of a catas¬ 
trophe - as well as the scent of the panther or a door that opens 
onto the void? Is it some hidden force of attraction? or a power¬ 
ful desire? No, these are empty terms. Seduction lies with the 
annulment of the signs, of their meaning, with their pure ap¬ 
pearance. Eyes that seduce have no meaning, their meaning be¬ 
ing exhausted in the gaze, as a face with makeup is exhausted 
in its appearance, in the formal rigour of a senseless labour. 
Above all, seduction supposes not a signified desire, but the 
beauty of an artifice . 

The panther’s scent is also a senseless message - and behind 
this message the panther is invisible, like a woman beneath her 
makeup. The Sirens too remained unseen. Sorcery is formed 
by what lies hidden. 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 77 


The seduction of eyes. The most immediate, purest form of 
seduction, one that bypasses words. Where looks alone join 
in a sort of duel, an immediate intertwining, unbeknownst to 
others and their discourses: the discrete charm of a silent and 
immobile orgasm. Once the delightful tension of the gazes gives 
way to words or loving gestures, the intensity declines. A tac- 
tility of gazes that sums up the body’s full potential (and that 
of its desires?) in a single, subtle instant, as in a stroke of wit. 
A duel that is simultaneouly sensual, even voluptuous, but dis- 
incarnated - a perfect foretaste of seduction’s vertigo, which 
the more carnal pleasures that follow will not equal. That these 
eyes meet is accidental, but it is as though they had been fixed 
on each other forever. Devoid of meaning, what is exchanged 
are not the gazes. There is no desire here, for desire is not cap¬ 
tivating, while eyes, like fortuitous appearances, cast a spell com¬ 
posed of pure, duel signs, with neither depth nor temporality. 

★ ★ ★ 

Any system that is totally complicit in its own absorption, 
such that signs no longer make sense, will exercise a remarka¬ 
ble power of fascination. Systems fascinate by their esotericism, 
which preserves them from external logics. The absorption of 
anything real by something self-sufficient, and self-destructive, 
proves fascinating. Whether a system of thought, an automatic 
mechanism, a perfect and perfectly useless object or a desert 
of stones, a woman or strip-tease artist (who must caress her¬ 
self in order' to “enchant” and exercise her power) - or, to be 
sure, God that most beautiful piece of esoteric machinery. 

Or the woman with makeup, who is absent to herself, an ab¬ 
sence of a focussed look, the absence of a face - how can one 
not be swallowed up in it? A beauty is one who abolishes her¬ 
self, thereby constituting a challenge that we can only take up 
by the dazzling loss of what? Of what is not beautiful. The beau¬ 
tiful woman absorbed by the cares that her beauty demands 
is immediately infectious because, in her narcissistic excess, she 
is removed from her self, and because all that is removed from 
the self is plunged into secrecy and absorbs its surroundings. 

The attraction of the void lies at the basis of seduction: not 



78 SEDUCTION 


i 

i 


the accumulation of signs, nor the messages of desire, but an 
esoteric complicity with the absorption of signs. Reduction be¬ 
gins in secrecy, in the slow, brutal exhaustion of meaning which 
establishes a complicity amongst the signs; it is here, more than 
in a physical being or the quality of a desire, that seduction is 
concocted. And it is what accounts for the enchantment of the 
games’s rules. I 


\ 

i 


} 


i 

j 

\ 

! 

t 

i 

j 

i 

i 

i 


f 

t 


i 


THE SECRET AND THE CHALLENGE 


The secret. 

The seductive, initiatory quality of that which cannot be said 
because it makes no sense, and of that which is not said even 
though it gets around. Thus I know another’s secret but do not 
reveal it and he knows that I know, but does not acknowledge 
it: the intensity between us is simply this secret about the secret. 
The complicity has nothing to do with some hidden piece of 
information. Besides, even if we wanted to reveal the secret we 
could not, since there is nothing to say... Everything that can 
be revealed lies outside the secret. For the latter is not a hid¬ 
den signified, nor the key to something, but circulates through 
and traverses everything that can be said, just as seduction flows 
beneath the obscenity of speech. It is the opposite of commu¬ 
nication, and yet it can be shared. The secret maintains its power 
only at the price of remaining unspoken, just as seduction oper¬ 
ates only because never spoken nor intended. 

The hidden or the repressed has a tendency to manifest it¬ 
self, whereas the secret does not. It is an initiatory and implo¬ 
sive form: one enters into a secret, but cannot exit. The secret 
is never revealed, never communicated, never even “secreted” 
(Zempleny, Nouvelle Revue de Psychanalyse, no. 14). Whence 
its strength, the power of an allusive, ritual exchange. 



80 SEDUCTION 


Thus in Kierkegaard’s Diary of the Seducer, seduction takes 
the form of an enigma to be solved. The girl is an enigma, and 
in order to seduce her, one must become an enigma for her. 
It is an enigmatic duel, one that the seduction solves, but 
without disclosing the secret. If the secret were disclosed, sex¬ 
uality would stand revealed. The story’s true meaning, if it had 
one, would be about sex - but in fact it doesn’t have one. In 
that place where meaning should be, where sex should occur, 
where words point to it, and where others think it to be - there 
is nothing. And this nothing/secret, this, the seduction’s un¬ 
signified moves beneath the words and their meaning, and 
moves faster than their meaning. It is what touches you first, 
before the sentences arrive, in the time it takes for them to fade 
away. A seduction beneath discourse, an invisible seduction, 
moving from sign to sign - a secret circulation. 

It is the exact opposite of the psychological relation: to share 
someone’s secrets is not to share his or her phantasies or desires, 
nor it is to share something as yet unspoken. When the id speaks, 
it is not seductive. All that involves repression, expressive ener¬ 
gies or the unconscious, everything that wishes to speak, every¬ 
where the ego has to appear - all this belongs to an exoteric 
order that contradicts the esoteric form of; secrecy and 
seduction. 

Yet the unconscious, the “adventure” of the unconscious, ap¬ 
pears as the last, large-scale attempt to reestablish secrecy in 
a society without secrets. The unconscious appears as our secret, 
our personal mystery in a confessional and transparent socie¬ 
ty. But it isn’t really a secret, for it is merely psychological. It 
does not have an existence of its own, since the unconscious 
was created at the same time as psychoanalysis,; that is to say, 
at the same time as the procedures for its assimilation, and the 
techniques for the retraction of the secrets lodged in its deep 
structures. 

But perhaps something is taking its revenge on all the interpre¬ 
tations, and in a subtle way disrupting their development? Some¬ 
thing that, most decidedly, does not want to be said and that, 
being an enigma, enigmatically possesses its own resolution, 
and so aspires to remain in secret and in the joys of secrecy. 

Language returns to its secret seduction despite all the efforts 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 81 


to uncover and betray it in order to make it signify, while we 
return to our own insoluble pleasures. 

★ ★ ★ 

There is neither a time of seduction, nor a time for seduc¬ 
tion, but still it has its own indispensable rhythm. Unlike in¬ 
strumental strategies, which proceed by intermediary stages, 
seduction operates instantaneously, in a single movement, and 
is always its own end. 

The cycle of seduction cannot be stopped. One can seduce 
someone in order to seduce someone else, but also seduce 
someone else to please oneself. The illusion that leads from the 
one to the other is subtle. Is it to seduce, or to be seduced, that 
is seductive? But to be seduced is the best way to seduce. It 
is an endless refrain. There is no active or passive mode in seduc¬ 
tion, no subject or object, no interior or exterior: seduction 
plays on both sides, and there is no frontier separating them. 
One cannot seduce others, if one has not oneself been seduced. 

Because seduction never stops at the truth of signs, but oper¬ 
ates by deception and secrecy, it inaugurates a mode of circu¬ 
lation that is itself secretive and ritualistic, a sort of immediate 
initiation that plays by its own rules. 

To be seduced is to be turned from one’s truth. To seduce 
is to lead the other from his/her truth. This truth then becomes 
a secret that escapes him/her (Vincent Descombes: L’inconscient 
malgre lut). 

Seduction is immediately reversible, and its reversibility is con¬ 
stituted by the challenge it implies and the secret in which it 
is absorbed. 

It is a power of attraction and distraction, of absorption and 
fascination, a power that cause the collapse of not just sex, but 
the real in general - a power of defiance. It is never an econo¬ 
my of sex or speech, but an escalation of violence and grace, 
an instantaneous passion that can result in sex, but which can 
just as easily exhaust itself in the process of defiance and death. 
It implies a radical indetermination that distinguishes it from 
a drive - drives being indeterminate in relation to their object, 
but determined as force and origin, while the passion of seduc- 


82 SEDUCTION 


tion has neither substance nor origin. It is not from some libidi- 
nal investment, some energy of desire that this passion acquires 
its intensity, but from gaming as pure form and from purely for¬ 
mal bluffing. 

★ ★ ★ 

Likewise, the challenge. It too has a duel form that wears it¬ 
self out in no time at all, drawing its intensity from this instan¬ 
taneous reversion. It too is bewitching, like a meaningless 
discourse to which one cannot not respond for the very rea* 
son that it is absurd. Why does one respond to a challenge? 
The same mysterious question as: what is it that seduces? 

What could be more seductive than a challenge? A seduc¬ 
tion or challenge always drives the other mad, but with a ver¬ 
tigo that is reciprocal - an insanity borne by the vertiginous 
absence that unites them, and by their reciprocal engulfment. 
Such is the inevitability of the challenge, and why one cannot 
but respond to it. For it inaugurates a kind of insane relation, 
quite unlike relations of communication or exchange: a duel 
relation transacted by meaningless signs, but held together by 
a fundamental rule and its secret observance. A challenge ter¬ 
minates all contracts and exchanges regulated by the law 
(whether the law of nature or value), substituting a highly con¬ 
ventional and ritualized pact, with an unceasing obligation to 
respond and respond in spades - an obligation that is governed 
by a fundamental game rule, and proceeds in accord with its 
own rhythm. In contrast to the law, which is always inscribed 
in stone or the sky, or in one’s heart, this fundamental rule never 
needs to be stated; indeed, it must never be stated. It is im¬ 
mediate, immanent, and inevitable (whereas the law is transcen¬ 
dent and explicit). ; 

There can never be seduction or challenge by contract. In 
order for a challenge or seduction to exist, all contractual rela¬ 
tions must disappear before the duel relation - a relation com¬ 
posed of secret signs that have been withdrawn from exchange, 
and derive their intensity from their formal division and im¬ 
mediate reverberation. In like manner, seduction’s enchantment 
puts an end to all libidinal economies, and every sexual or psy- 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 83 


chological contract, replacing them with a dizzying spiral of 
responses and counter-responses. It is never an investment but 
a risk; never a contract but a pact; never individual but duel; 
never psychological but ritual; never natural but artificial. It is 
no one’s strategy, but a destiny. 

★ ★ ★ 

Challenge and seduction are quite similar. And yet there is 
a difference. In a challenge one draws the other into one’s area 
of strength, which, in view of the potential for unlimited esca¬ 
lation, is also his or her area of strength. Whereas in a strategy 
(?) of seduction one draws the other into one’s area of weak¬ 
ness, which is also his or her area of weakness. A calculated 
weakness, an incalculable weakness: one challenges the other 
to be taken in. A weakness or failure: isn’t the panther’s scent 
itself a weakness, an abyss which the other animals approach 
giddily? In fact, the panther of the mythical scent is simply the 
epicenter of death, and from this weakness subtle fragrances 
emerge. 

To seduce is to appear weak. To seduce is to render weak. 
We seduce with our weakness, never with strong signs or pow¬ 
ers. In seduction we enact this weakness, and this is what gives 
seduction its strength. 

We seduce with our death, our vulnerability, and with the 
void that haunts us. The secret is to know how to play with 
death in the absence of a gaze or gesture, in the absence of 
knowledge or meaning. 

Psychoanalysis tells us to assume our fragility and passivity, 
but in almost religious terms, turns them into a form of resig¬ 
nation and acceptance in order to promote a well tempered psy¬ 
chic equilibrium. Seduction, by contrast, plays triumphantly 
with weakness, making a game of it, with its own rules. 

★ ★ ★ 

Everything is seduction and nothing but seduction. 

They wanted us to believe that everything was production. 
The theme song of world transformation: the play of produc- 


.84 SEDUCTION 


tive forces is what regulates the course of things. Seduction is 
merely an immoral, frivolous, superficial, and superfluous 
process, limited to the realm of signs and appearances, devot¬ 
ed to pleasure and the usufruct of useless bodies. But what if 
everything, contrary to appearances - in fact, in accord with 
a secret rule of appearances - operates by seduction? 

the moment of seduction 
the suspension of seduction 
the risk of seduction 
the accident of seduction 
the delirium of seduction 
the pause of seduction. 

Production only accumulates, without deviating from its end. 
It replaces all illusions with just one, its own, which becomes 
the reality principle. Production, like revolution, puts an end 
to the epidemic of appearances. But seduction is inevitable. No 
one living escapes it - not even the dead. For the dead are only 
dead when there are no longer any echoes from this world to 
seduce them, and no longer any rites challenging them to exist. 

For us, only those who can no longer produce are dead. In 
reality, only those who do not wish to seduce or be seduced 
are dead. But seduction gets hold of them nonetheless, just as 
it gets hold of all production and ends up destroying it. 

For the void - the hole that, at any point, is burned out by 
the return of the flame of any sign, the meaninglessness that 
makes for seduction’s unexpected charm - also lies in wait, 
without illusion, for production once the latter has reached its 
limits. Everything returns to the void, including our words and 
gestures. But before disappearing, certain words and gestures, 
by anticipating their demise, are able to exercise a seduction 
that the others will never know. Seduction’s secret lies in this 
evocation and revocation of the other, with a slowness and sus¬ 
pense that are poetic, like the slow motion film of a fall or an 
explosion, because something had the time, prior to its com¬ 
pletion, to makes its absence felt. And this, if there is such a 
thing, is the perfection of “desire.” 


THE EFFIGY OF THE SEDUCTRESS 


The prismatic effect of seduction provides another space of 
refraction. Seduction does not consist of a simple appearance, 
nor a pure absence, but the eclipse of a presence. Its sole strategy 
is to be-there/not-there, and thereby produce a sort of flicker¬ 
ing, a hypnotic mechanism that crystallizes attention outside 
all concern with meaning. Absence here seduces presence. 

The sovereign power of the seductress stems from her abili¬ 
ty to “eclipse” any will or context. She cannot allow other re¬ 
lations to be established - even the most intimate, affectionate, 
amorous or sexual (particularly not the latter) - without breaking 
them, or repaying them with a strange fascination. She cons¬ 
tantly avoids all relations in which, at some given moment, the 
question of truth will be posed. She undoes them effortlessly, 
not by denying or destroying them, but by making them shim¬ 
mer. Here lies her secret: in the flickering of a presence. She 
is never where one expects her, and never where one wants 
her. Seduction supposes, Virilio would say, an “aesthetics of dis¬ 
appearance” 

The seductress turns desire itself into an illusion or trap. For 
her there is no more truth to desire - or to the body - than 
to anything else. Love itself, or the sex act, can become mo¬ 
ments in a seduction if given the ecliptic form of appearance/dis- 



86 SEDUCTION 


appearance, that it to say, a discontinuous form that cuts short 
every emotion, pleasure and relation in order to reaffirm the 
superior character of seduction, its transcendent aesthetics rela¬ 
tive to the immanent ethics of pleasure and desire. Love and 
the carnal act are only so much seductive finery, the most re¬ 
fined and subtle invented by women to seduce men. But 
modesty and rejection can play the same role. :Everything is 
finery in this sense, and belongs to the genius of appearance. 

“I do not want to love, cherish, or even please you, but to 
seduce you - and my only concern is not that you; love or please 
me, but that you are seduced .” The game of the seductress in¬ 
volves a certain mental cruelty, towards herself as well as others. 
Any affection on her part is a weakness relative to the ritual 
imperative. No quarter can be given in a challenge where love 
and desire are dissolved. Nor any respite, lest this fascination 
be reduced to nothing. The true seductress can only exist in 
a state of seduction. Outside this state, she is no longer a wom¬ 
an, neither an object nor subject of desire, faceless and unat¬ 
tractive - for she is borne by an all-consuming passion. 
Seduction is sovereign - the only ritual that eclipses all others 
- but its sovereignty is cruel, and carries a heavy price. 

Thus, when seducing, her body and desires are no longer 
her own. But then what is this body, or these: desires? She 
doesn’t believe in them - and so plays with them. Without a 
body of her own, she turns herself into a pure appearance, an 
artificial construct with which to trap the desires of others. 
Seduction consists in letting the other believe himself to be the 
subject of his desire, without oneself being caught in this trap. 
It can also consist in becoming a “seductive” sex l object, if that 
is the man’s “desire.” The spell cast by seduction passes through 
sexual attraction; but indeed, it passes through in 1 order to tran¬ 
scend it. “I am attractive, but you are captivating.” - “Life has 
its attractions, but death leaves one spellbound.” 

For seduction, desire is not an end but a hypothetical prize. 
More precisely, the objective is to provoke and deceive desire, 
which exists only to burn for a moment and then be disappoint¬ 
ed - it being deluded as to its power, which is given to it only 
in order to be withdrawn. The person might not even know 
what has happened. It might be that the person seducing actu- 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 87 


ally loves or desires the person seduced, but at a deeper level 
(or a more superficial level if one will, in the superficial abyss 
of appearances) another game is being played out, unbeknownst 
to the two protagonists who remain mere puppets. 

For seduction, desire is a myth. If desire is a will to power 
and possession, seduction places before it an equal will to power 
by the simulacrum. In forming a web of appearances seduc¬ 
tion both sustains this hypothetical power of desire and exor¬ 
cizes it. Just as for Kierkegaard’s seducer the girl’s naive grace, 
her spontaneous erotic power is merely a myth, which is sus¬ 
tained only so that it can be annihilated (perhaps he loves her, 
but in the suprasensual realm of seduction the girl is but the 
mythical figure of a sacrifice); similarly, for the seductress, the 
power of man’s desire is a myth that she uses in order to both 
evoke and destroy it. The seducer’s artifice, directed at the girl’s 
mythical grace, is fully equal to the seductress’ artificial rework¬ 
ing of her body, which is directed at the man’s mythical desire. 
In both cases the mythical power, whether the power of grace 
or desire, is to be reduced to nothing. Seduction always seeks 
to overturn and exorcize a power. If seduction is artifical, it is 
also sacrificial. One is playing with death, it always being a mat¬ 
ter of capturing or immolating the desire of the other. 

Seduction, by contrast, is immortal. The seductress, like the 
hysteric, wants to be immortal and live in an eternal present 
- much to everyone’s astonishment, given the field of decep¬ 
tion and despair in which she moves, and given the cruelty of 
her game. But here she survives because outside psychology, 
^meaning or desire. What destroys people, wears them down, 
is the meaning they give their acts. But the seductress does not 
attach any meaning to what she does, nor suffer the weight of 
desire. Even if she speaks of reasons or motives, be they guilty 
or cynical, it is a trap. And her ultimate trap is to ask: “Tell me 
who I am” - when she is indifferent to what she is, when she 
is a blank, with neither age nor history. Her power lies in the 
irony and elusiveness of her presence. She may be blind to her 
own existence, but she is well aware of all the mechanisms of 
reason and truth people use to protect themselves from seduc¬ 
tion; and she is aware that from behind the shelter of these 
mechanisms they will nonetheless, if handled correctly, let them- 


88 SEDUCTION 


selves be seduced. 

“I am immortal,” in other words, relentless. Which is to say 
that the game must never stop, this even being one of its fun¬ 
damental rules. For just as no player can be greater than the 
game itself, so no seductress can be greater than seduction. None 
of the vicissitudes of love or desire can be allowed to break 
this rule. One must love in order to seduce, and not the reverse. 
Seduction consists of finery, it weaves and unweaves appear¬ 
ances, as Penelope weaved and unweaved her tapestry, as desire 
itself was woven and unwoven beneath her hands. For it is ap¬ 
pearances, and the mastery of appearances, that rule. 

No one has ever been dispossessed of the power associated 
with seduction and its rules, this fundamental form. Yes, wom¬ 
en have been dispossessed of their bodies, their desires, hap¬ 
piness and rights. But they have always remained mistresses of 
this possibility of eclipse, of seductive disappearance and trans- 
luscence, and so have always been capable of eclipsing the pow¬ 
er of their masters. 

★ * ★ 

But is there a feminine figure of seduction of, for that mat¬ 
ter, a masculine figure? Or is there but one form, variants of 
which crystallize around one or the other sex? 

Seduction oscillates between two poles, a pole of strategy 
and a pole of animality (and thus ranges from the most subtle 
calculation to the most brutal physical suggestion) which we 
associate with the figures of the seducer and the seductress 
respectively. But doesn’t this division mask a single form, an 
undivided seduction? 


★ ★ ★ ' 

Animal seduction. 

With animals seduction achieves its purest form, in that the 
seductive display appears instinctual, immediately given in reflex 
behaviours and natural finery. But for all that, animal seduc¬ 
tion does not cease to be perfectly ritualistic. In this sense, 
animals are the least natural of beings, for with them artifice 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 89 


- the effects of mascarade and finery - is at its most naive. It 
is at the heart of this paradox, where the distinction between 
nature and culture is suppressed in the concept of finery, that 
the analogy between animality and femininity plays itself out. 

If animals are seductive, is it not because they are strategic 
elements in a campaign to deride our pretensions to humani¬ 
ty? If the feminine is seductive, is it not because it too thwarts 
our claims to depth? The frivolous has a power of seduction 
which concurs with that of the bestial. 

What we find seductive in animals is not their “natural” 
savagery. For that matter, are animals really characterized by 
savagery, by a high degree of contingency, unpredictability, or 
impulsiveness, or on the contrary by high degrees of ritualized 
behaviour? The same question can be posed for primitive so¬ 
cieties. The latter were once seen as close to the animal realm, 
and indeed, in a sense, they are: for they share a common dis¬ 
regard for the law, tied to high levels of observance of fixed 
forms, whether in their relation to their territory, other animals 
or men. 

Even in their dances and bodily ornamentation, their animal 
grace is a product of a series of observances, rules and analo¬ 
gies, which makes it the opposite of natural chance. All the pres¬ 
tigious attributes associated with animals are ritual traits. The 
“natural” finery of animals is similar to the artificial finery of 
humans, who, one might add, have always sought to incorporate 
the former into their rites. If there is a preference for animal 
masks, it is because animals immediately appear as ritual masks, 
as a play of signs and a strategy of finery - as is the case with 
human rituals. The very morphology of primitive rituals, their 
furs and feathers, gestures and dances are a prototype of ritual 
efficacy. That is, they never form a functional system (reproduc¬ 
tion, sexuality, ecology, mimicry - the postulates of an extremely 
impoverished ethology reworked and corrected by function¬ 
alism), but an ostentatious ceremony for mastering signs, and 
a cycle for seducing meaning, where the signs gravitate irresist¬ 
ibly around each other so as to reproduce themselves as if by 
magnetic recurrence, resulting in dizziness, a loss of meaning, 
and the sealing of an indestructible pact amongst the par¬ 
ticipants. 



90 SEDUCTION 


! 

i 

i 


Generally speaking, “rituality” is, as a form, superior to “so¬ 
ciality”. The latter is only a recent, and not very Reductive form 
of organization and exchange, one invented by humans for hu¬ 
mans. Rituality is a much larger system, encompassing the liv¬ 
ing and the dead, humans and animals, as well as a “nature” 
whose periodic movements, recurrences and catastrophes serve, 
seemingly spontaneously, as ritual signs. By comparison, so¬ 
ciality appears rather impoverished: under the sign of the Law 
it is capable of bringing together only one species (and even 
then...). By contrast, rituality succeeds in maintaining - not by 
laws, but by rules and their infinite play of analogies - a form 
of cyclical order and universal exchange of which the Law and 
the social are quite incapable. 

If we find animals appealing and seductive, it is because they 
remind us of this ritual arrangement. They do not| evoke a nostal¬ 
gia for the savage state, but a feline, theatrical nostalgia for finery, 
for the seduction and strategy of ritual forms which transcend 
all sociality and which, thereby, still enchant us. 

In this sense one can say that, with seduction, 'one “becomes 
an animal,” or that female seduction is animal-like, without im¬ 
plying some sort of instinctive nature. For one is saying that 
seduction is profoundly linked to body rituals ;which, like all 
other rituals, serve not to establish a nature and uncover its law, 
but to set up appearances and organize their cycle. Not that fe¬ 
male seduction is ethically inferior. On the contrary, it is aes¬ 
thetically superior. It is a strategy of finery, j 

Men, moreover, are never seduced by natural beauty, but by 
an artificial, ritual beauty - because the latter is esoteric and 
initiatory, whereas the former is merely expressive. And because 
seduction lies in the aura of secrecy produced by weightless, 
artificial signs, and not in some natural econorriy of meaning, 
beauty or desire. ! 

The claim that anatomy (or the body) is not! destiny is not 
recent, but was made far more stridently in all societies prior 
to our own. Rituals, ceremonies, raiments, masks, designs, mu¬ 
tilations and torture - all in order to seduce../ the gods, the 
spirits, or the dead. The body was the first great medium of 
this immense undertaking. For us alone does it take on an aes¬ 
thetic, decorative character. (With its true character, thereby de- 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 91 


nied: the very idea of decoration implies a moral denial of all 
the body’s magic. For the savages, not to mention animals, it 
is not decoration, but finery. And a universal rule. He who is 
not painted is stupid, say the Caduveo). 

We might find the forms disgusting: covering the body with 
mud, deforming the the skull or filing the teeth in Mexico, 
deforming the feet in China, distending the neck, or making 
incisions in the face, not to mention tattoos, jewelry, masks, fine 
raiments, ritual paintings, or even the bracelets made from tin 
cans worn by present-day Polynesians. 

The body is made to signify, but with signs that, strictly speak¬ 
ing, have no meaning. All resemblance has vanished, all 
representation is absent. The body is covered with appearances, 
illusions, traps, animal parodies and sacrificial simulations, not 
in order to dissemble, nor to reveal (a desire, say, or a drive), 
nor even just for fun (the spontaneous expressiveness of chil¬ 
dren and primitives). What is involved here is an undertaking 
that Artaud would have termed metaphysical: a sacrificial 
challenge to the world to exist. For nothing exists naturally, 
things exist because challenged, and because summoned to 
respond to that challenge. It is by being challenged that the 
powers of the world, including the gods, are aroused; it is by 
challenging these powers that they are exorcized, seduced and 
captured; it is by the challenge that the game and its rules are 
resurrected. All this requires an artificial bluffing, that it to say, 
a systematic simulation that troubles itself with neither a 
preestablished state of the world nor bodily anatomy. A radical 
metaphysics of simulation, it need not even concern itself with 
“natural” harmony. In the facial paintings of the Caduveo, the 
facial features are not respected; the design’s diagrams and sym¬ 
metries being laid across the face from one end to the other. 
(Our makeup submits to the body as a referential system, in 
order to accentuate its features and orifices. But does this mean 
that it is closer to the nature of desire? Nothing could be less 
certain). 


★ ★ ★ 

Something of this radical metaphysics of appearances, this 


92 SEDUCTION 


challenge by simulation, still lives in the cosmetic arts and the 
glamour of modern fashion. The Church Fathers were well 
aware of this, and denounced it as diabolical. “To be attentive 
to one’s body, to care for and paint it is to set oneself up as 
a rival of God and contest His creation.” This stigmatization 
has continued ever since, but is now reflected-in that other 
religion, that of the subject’s liberty and essential desires. Our 
entire morality condemns the construction of the female as a 
sex object by the facial and bodily arts. The female is no longer 
denounced by God’s judgment, but by the dictates of modern 
ideology, for prostituting her femininity in consumer culture, 
and subjecting her body to the reproduction of capital. “Femi¬ 
ninity is woman’s alienated being.” “Femininity manifests itself 
as an abstract totality, devoid of any reality it can call its own, 
a product of the discourse and rhetoric of advertising.” “The 
woman flushed with her beauty masks and perpetually fresh 
lips no longer lives her real life,” etc., etc. 

In opposition to all these pious discourses, we must again 
praise the sex object; for it bears, in the sophistication of ap¬ 
pearances, something of a challenge to the naive order of the 
world and sex; and it, and it alone, escapes the realm of produc¬ 
tion (though one might like to believe it subjected to the latter) 
and returns to that of seduction. In its unreality,,in the unreal 
defiance of its prostitution of signs, the sexual object moves 
beyond sex and attains seduction. It again becomes ceremoni¬ 
al. The feminine was always the effigy of this ritual, and there 
is a frightful confusion in wanting to de-sanctify it as a cult ob¬ 
ject in order to turn it into a subject of production, or in want¬ 
ing to rescue it from artifice in order to return it to its own 
“natural” desires. 

Woman is well within her rights, and is indeed 
forming a sort of duty, in studying to appear mag¬ 
ical and supernatural. It is necessary that she 
should astonish and bewitch. Being an idol, she 
must be gilded and adored. She must therefore 
borrow from all the arts the means of raising her¬ 
self above nature, the better to subjugate hearts and 
stir souls. It matters very little that her tricks and 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 93 


artifices should be known to all, provided that their 
success is certain and their effect always irresistible. 

Such considerations provide the artist-philosopher 
with a ready justification for all the practices em¬ 
ployed by women of every period to lend sub¬ 
stance and, so to speak, divinity to their fragile 
beauty. 

An enumeration of these practices would be in¬ 
terminable. But to confine ourselves to what our 
contemporaries vulgarly call “the use of cosmet¬ 
ics,” who can fail to see that the use of rice-powder 
(so stupidly anathematised by our candid 
philosophers) has the object and result of banish¬ 
ing from the complexion the blemishes which na¬ 
ture has outrageously sown there, and of creating 
an abstract unity in the texture and colour of the 
skin; and that this unity, like the unity produced 
by the sculptor’s chisel, brings the human being 
directly nearer to the statue - in other words, to 
a being that is divine and superior? As for the lamp¬ 
black that outlines the eye, and the rouge that em¬ 
phasizes the upper part of the cheek, the planned 
result of these - although their use arises from the 
same principle, the need to transcend nature - is 
to satisfy an exactly opposite need. The red and 
the black represent life - a life surpassing and ex¬ 
ceeding that of the nature. The black frame around 
the eye makes the glance stranger and more 
penetrating; it makes the eye more distinctly 
resemble a window open on the infinite. The red 
blaze on the cheek further enhances the bright¬ 
ness of the eye, and lends a woman’s lovely face 
the mysterious passion of a priestess. 

Charles Baudelaire, “In Praise of Cosmetics” 2 

If desire exists - as modernity hypothesizes - then nothing 
must interfere with its natural harmony, and cosmetics are 
hypocritical. But if desire is a myth - as seduction hypothe- 

2. Charles Baudelaire, “In Praise of Cosmetics” in My Heart Laid Bare and Other 
Prose Writings (New York: Vanguard Press, 1951) pp. 63-64. 



94 SEDUCTION 


sizes - then nothing can prevent it from being put to use by 
signs, unrestrained by natural limits. The power of signs lies 
in their appearance and disappearance; that is how they efface 
the world. Cosmetics too are a means of effacing the face, ef¬ 
facing the eyes behind more beautiful eyes, cancelling the lips 
behind more luxuriant lips. This “abstract unity that brings the 
human being nearer to a being that is divine,” this “life surpass¬ 
ing and exceeding nature” about which Baudelaire speaks, 
results from a simple artificial stroke that suppresses all expres¬ 
sion. Artifice does not alienate the subject, but mysteriously 
alters her/him. Women are aware of this transformation when, 
in front of their mirrors, they must erase themselves in order 
to apply their makeup, and when, by applying their makeup, 
they make themselves into a pure appearance denuded of mean¬ 
ing. How can one mistake this “exceeding of nature” for a vul¬ 
gar camouflaging of truth? Only falsehoods can alienate the 
truth, but makeup is not false, or else (like the game of trans¬ 
vestites) it is falser than falsehood and so recovers a kind of su¬ 
perior innocence or transparency. It absorbs all expression 
within its own surface, without a trace of blood or meaning. 
Certainly this is challenging, and cruel - but who is alienated? 
Only those who cannot abide this cruel perfection, and can¬ 
not defend themselves except by moral repulsion - and they 
are wrong. How can one respond to pure appearances, whether 
hieratic or mobile, without first recognizing their sovereignty? 
By taking off the makeup, tearing off the veil, or enjoining the 
appearances to disappear? How ridiculous! An iconoclast’s uto¬ 
pia. There is no God behind the images, and the very nothing¬ 
ness they conceal must remain a secret. The seduction, 
fascination and “aesthetic” attraction of all the great imaginary 
processes lies here: in the effacing of every instance, be it the 
face and every substance, be it desire - in the artificial perfec¬ 
tion of the sign. 


★ * ★ 

\ 

Undoubtedly, the best example of this is to be found in the 
only important constellation of collective seduction produced 
by modern times, that of film stars or cinema idols. Now the 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 95 


star, even if a man, is feminine; for if God is masculine, idols 
are always feminine. And in truth, the biggest stars were wom¬ 
en. They were, however, no longer beings of flesh and desire, 
but transexual, suprasensual beings, around whom crystallized 
stern rituals and a wasteful profusion which turned them into 
a generation of sacred monsters, endowed with a power of ab¬ 
sorption equal to and rivaling the real world’s powers of produc¬ 
tion. They were our only myth in an age incapable of generating 
great myths or figures of seduction comparable to those of 
mythology or art. 

The cinema’s power lives in its myth. Its stories, its psycho¬ 
logical portraits, its imagination or realism, the meaningful im¬ 
pressions it leaves - these are all secondary Only the myth is 
powerful, and at the heart of the cinematographic myth lies 
seduction - that of the renowned seductive figure, a man or 
woman (but above all a woman) linked to the ravishing but spe¬ 
cious power of the cinematographic image itself. A miraculous 
conjunction. 

The star is by no means an ideal or sublime being: she is ar- 
tifical. She need not be an actress in the psychological sense; 
her face is not the reflection of a soul or sensitivity which she 
does not have. On the contrary, her presence serves to submerge 
all sensibility and expression beneath a ritual fascination with 
the void, beneath the ecstacy of her gaze and the nullity of her 
smile. This is how she achieves mythical status and becomes 
subject to collective rites of sacrificial adulation. 

The ascension of the cinema idols, the masses’ divinities, was 
and remains a central story of modern times - it still counter¬ 
balances all political or social events. There is no point in dis¬ 
missing it as merely the dreams of mystified masses. It is a 
seductive occurrence that counterbalances every productive oc¬ 
currence. 

To be sure, seduction in the age of the masses is no longer 
like that of The Princess of Cleves, Les Liaisons Dangereuses 
or Diary of the Seducer ; nor for that matter, like that found in 
ancient mythology, which undoubtedly contains the stories 
richest in seduction. In these seduction is hot , while that of 
our modern idols is cold , being at the intersection of two cold 
mediums, that of the image and that of the masses. 


96 SEDUCTION 


This latter seduction has the spectral whiteness of the heaven¬ 
ly stars, after which they are so appropriately named. The masses 
have been “seduced” in the modern era by only two great 
events: the white light of the stars, and the black light of ter¬ 
rorism. These two phenomena have much in common. Terrorist 
acts, like the stars, “flicker:” they do not not enlighten; they 
do not radiate a continuous, white light, but an intermittent, 
cold light; they disappoint even as they exalt; they fascinate by 
the suddeness of their appearance and the imminence of their 
disappearance. And they are constantly being eclipsed as they 
each try to outdo each other. : 

The great stars or seductresses never dazzle because of their 
talent or intelligence, but because of their absence. They are 
dazzling in their nullity, and in their coldness - the coldness 
of makeup and ritual hieraticism (rituals are cool, according to 
McLuhan). They turn into a metaphor the immense glacial 
process which has seized hold of our universe of meaning, with 
its flickering networks of signs arid images; but at the same time, 
at a specific historical conjuncture that can no longer be 
reproduced, they transform it into an effect of seduction. 

The cinema has never shone except by pure seduction, by 
the pure vibrancy of non-sense - a hot shimmering that is all 
the more beautiful for having come from the cold. 

Artifice and non-sense, they are the idol’s esoteric face, its 
mask of initiation. The seduction of a face purged of all expres¬ 
sion, except that of the ritual smile and a no less conventional 
beauty. A white face, with the whiteness of signs consecrated 
to ritualized appearances, no longer subject to some deep law 
of signification. The sterility of idols is well-known: they do 
not reproduce, but rise from the ashes, like the phoenix, or from 
their mirror, like the seductress. 

These great seductive effigies are our masks, pur Easter Is¬ 
land statues. But do not be mistaken: if once, historically, there 
were throngs hot with adoration, religious passion, sacrifice 
and insurrection, now there are masses cold with seduction and 
fascination. Their effigy is cinematographic and implies a differ¬ 
ent sacrifice. 

The death of the stars is merely punishment for their ritual¬ 
ized idolatry. They must die, they must already be dead - so 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 97 


that they can be perfect and superficial, with or without their 
makeup. But their death must not lead us to a negative abreac¬ 
tion. For behind the only existing form of immortality, that of 
artifice, there lies the idea incarnated in the stars, that death 
itself shines by its absence, that death can be turned into a bril¬ 
liant and superficial appearance, that it is itself a seductive 
surface... 



THE IRONIC STRATEGY OF THE SEDUCER 


If it is characteristic of the seductress that she turns herself 
into an appearance in order to disturb appearances, what is 
characteristic of that other figure, the seducer? 

He too turns himself into an illusion in order to sow confu¬ 
sion, but curiously, this illusion is part of a calculation, with 
finery giving way to strategy. Now if a woman’s finery is also 
strategic, a calculated display, is not the seducer’s strategy a dis¬ 
play of calculation with which to defend himself from some 
opposing force? A strategy of finery vs. the finery of strategy... 

Discourses that are too sure of themselves - as with strate¬ 
gies of love - must be understood differently. Though complete¬ 
ly “rational,” they are still only the instruments of a larger fate, 
of which they are as much the victims as the directors. Doesn’t 
the seducer end up losing himself in his strategy, as in an emo¬ 
tional labyrinth? Doesn’t he invent that strategy in order to lose 
himself in it? And he who believes himself the game’s master, 
isn’t he the first victim of strategy’s tragic myth? 

★ ★ ★ 

Consider the seducer’s obsession with the girl in Kierkegaard’s 
Diary of the Seducer. An obsession with an inviolate, still asex¬ 
ual state, a charmed state of grace. And because she is graced, 
one must find grace in her eyes, for like God she possesses a 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 99 


matchless vantage. As a result, because naturally endowed with 
all seduction, she becomes the object of a savage challenge and 
must be destroyed. 

The seducer’s calling is the extermination of the girl’s natur¬ 
al power by an artificial power of his own. He will deliberately 
undertake to equal or surpass the natural power to which, in 
spite of all that makes him appear as the seducer, he has suc¬ 
cumbed since the beginning. His strategy, his intention and des¬ 
tination are a response to the young girl’s grace and 
seductiveness, to a predestination that is all the more power¬ 
ful because unconscious, and that must, as a result, be exorcized. 

The last word cannot be left to nature: this, fundamentally, 
is what is at issue. Her exceptional, innate grace (which, like 
the accursed share, is immoral) must be sacrificed by the seducer, 
who will seek with all his skill to lead her to the point of erotic 
abandon, the point at which she will cease to be a seductive, 
that is, dangerous power. 

The seducer by himself is nothing; the seduction originates 
entirely with the girl. This is why Johannes can claim to have 
learned everything from Cordelia. He is not being hypocriti¬ 
cal. The calculated seduction mirrors the natural seduction, 
drawing from the latter as from its source, but all the better to 
eliminate it. 

This is also why he does not leave anything to chance, the 
girl being deprived of initiative, a seemingly defenseless object 
in the game of seduction. She has already played her hand be¬ 
fore the seducer begins to play his. Everything has already taken 
place; the seduction simply rights a natural imbalance by tak¬ 
ing up the pre-existing challenge constituted by the girl’s natural 
beauty and grace. 

Seduction now changes its meaning. Instead of being an im¬ 
moral and libertine exercise, a cynical deception for sexual ends 
(and thus without great interest), it becomes mythical and ac¬ 
quires the dimensions of a sacrifice. This is why the “victim’s” 
consent is so easily obtained. In her abandon she is, in a sense, 
obeying the commands of a divinity who wants every force to 
be overturned and sacrificed, be it that of power or that of 
a natural seductiveness, because all force, and that of beauty 
in particular, is sacrilegious. Cordelia is sovereign, and is 


100 SEDUCTION 


sacrificed to her own sovereignty. The reversibility of sacrifice 
constitutes a murderous form of symbolic exchange; it spares 
nothing, not even life itself, nor even beauty or seduction, which 
is its most dangerous form. In this sense, the seducer cannot 
claim to be the hero of an erotic master plan; he is only the 
agent of a process that goes far beyond him. Nor is the victim 
entirely innocent, since, as a beautiful and seductive virgin, she 
is in herself a challenge which can only be met by her death 
(or her seduction, the equivalent of her murder). 

The Diary of the Seducer is the script of a perfect crime. None 
of the seducer’s calculations, none of his manoeuvres fail. It 
all unfolds with an infallibility that is neither real nor psycho¬ 
logical, but mythical. The artifice’s perfection, the apparent in¬ 
evitability that guides the seducer’s actions, simply reflects, as 
in a mirror, the perfection of the girl’s innate grace, and the in¬ 
exorable necessity of her sacrifice. This doesn’t result from any 
specific person’s strategy. It is fate, Johannes being only its in¬ 
strument and, therefore, infallible. 

There is something impersonal in every process of seduction, 
as in every crime, something ritualistic, something supra- 
subjective and supra-sensual, the lived experience, whether of 
the seducer or his victim, being only its unconsious reflection. 
Dramaturgy without a subject. The ritual execution of a form 
that consumes its subjects. This is why the piece takes on both 
the aesthetic form of a work of art and the ritual form of a crime. 

★ ★ ★ 

In the end, Cordelia is seduced, delivered to the erotic pleas¬ 
ures of a night and then abandoned. One mustn’t be surprised 
at this, nor consider Johannes, in line with'bourgeois psychol¬ 
ogy, a hateful person. Seduction, being a sacrificial process, ends 
with a murder (the deflowering) - though the latter need not 
have taken place. For once Johannes is certain of his victory, 
Cordelia is, for him, dead. It is the impure seduction that ends 
in love and pleasure, and is, therefore, no longer a sacrifice. Sex¬ 
uality might be reexamined in this light, as the economic residue 
of seduction’s sacrificial process, not unlike the residual por¬ 
tion that in ancient sacrifices was left to circulate within the 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 101 


economy. Sex then would be merely the discount or balance 
of a more fundamental process, a crime or sacrifice, which fails 
to attain total reversibility. The gods take their part; humans share 
what’s left. 

The impure seducer, a Don Juan or Casanova, dedicates him¬ 
self to the accumulation of this residue. Flying from one sexu¬ 
al conquest to another, he seduces for pleasure without attaining 
what Kierkegaard considered the “spiritual” dimension of seduc¬ 
tion - where the challenge pushes the woman’s seductive 
resources and powers to their limit, so that, in accord with a 
carefully laid plan, they can be turned against themselves. 

The intrigue whereby Cordelia is slowly dispossessed of her 
powers, makes one think of the innumerable rites for the exor¬ 
cism of female powers which can be found throughout primi¬ 
tive societies (Bettelheim). To cast out women’s power of fertility, 
to encircle and circumscribe that power, and eventually simu¬ 
late and appropriate it, is the purpose of the couvades, the ar¬ 
tificial invaginations, excoriations and scarrings - all the 
innumerable symbolic wounds (up to and including the initia¬ 
tion and institution of a new power: political power) for sup¬ 
pressing the females’ incomparable “natural” advantage. One 
might also consider ancient Chinese ideas on sexuality, accord¬ 
ing to which the male, by maintaining the orgasm in suspense, 
draws into himself the power of the female yang. 

In any case, something has been given to women that must 
be exorcized by a deliberate campaign to dispossess her of her 
powers. And from this “sacrificial” perspective, there is no differ¬ 
ence between feminine seduction and the seducer’s strategy: 
they both involve the other’s death and mental spoliation, the 
other’s abduction and the abduction of his or her power. It is 
always the story of a murder, or better of an aesthetic and sacrifi¬ 
cial immolation since, as Kierkegaard suggests, it always occurs 
at a spiritual level. 


★ ★ ★ 

Concerning the “spiritual” pleasure of seduction. 

The scenario of seduction is, according to Kierkegaard, 
spiritual. It demands a certain spirit in the eighteenth century 


102 SEDUCTION 


sense, that is to say, intelligence, charm and refinement, but also 
in the modern sense of the Witz or stroke of wit. 

Seduction never plays on the other’s desires or amorous 
proclivities, this being vulgar, carnal, mechanical and, in short, 
uninteresting. Everything must respond by subtle allusions, with 
all the signs enmeshed in the trap. Thus the seducer’s artifices 
reflect the girl’s seductive nature, as though the latter was part 
of an ironic stage production, a deception made to measure, 
to which she would, effortlessly, come and be caught. 

It is not, therefore, a matter of a frontal attack, but of a di¬ 
agonal seduction that glides like a (brush?) stroke (and what 
is more seductive than a stroke of wit?), with its vivacity and 
economy, and its use of the same duplicated materials, to use 
Freud’s terms. The seducer’s weapons are the same as those of 
the girl, but turned against her; and it is this reversibility that 
gives the strategy its spiritual appeal. 

It has been said, and justifiably so, that mirrors are spiritual 
- the reflection itself being a stroke of wit. For the mirror’s spell 
does not lie with the fact that one recognizes oneself in it - 
in itself a rather appalling coincidence - but with the ironic 
and mysterious stroke of such a reduplication. Now the seducer’s 
strategy is precisely that of the mirror. That is why, ultimately, 
he doesn’t deceive anyone, and why he never deceives him¬ 
self: for the mirror is infallible (if his manoeuvres and snares 
were taken from outside, he would undoubtedly commit some 
error). 

★ ★ ★ 

Consider another stroke of this type, worthy of being included 
in the annals of seduction: the same letter written by two differ¬ 
ent women - and written not out of perversity, but from a trans¬ 
parency of heart and soul. Both letters contain the same amorous 
emotions, these emotions are real, they each have their own 
quality But the latter must not be confused with the “spiritu¬ 
al” pleasure that emanates from the mirror effect produced by 
the two letters, and between the two women, which is, strict¬ 
ly speaking, a pleasure of seduction. It is an entirely different, 
livelier, more subtle rapture than love. The emotions born of 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 103 


desire can never equal the exuberant, secret joy one experiences 
when playing with desire itself. Desire is simply a referent like 
any other, which seduction immediately betters and transcends, 
precisely by virtue of its its spirit. Seduction is a stroke : here 
it short-circuits the two recipients in a kind of imaginary over¬ 
printing, wherein desire perhaps confuses them. At any rate, 
this stroke confuses desire, renders it indistint, producing a slight 
giddiness that proceeds from a superior indifference, and from 
the laughter that undermines its still too serious entanglement. 

To seduce, then, is to make both the figures and the signs 
- the latter held by their own illusions - play amongst them¬ 
selves. Seduction is never the result of physical attraction, a con¬ 
junction of affects or an economy of desire. For seduction to 
occur an illusion must intervene and mix up the images; a stroke 
has to bring disconnected things together, as if in a dream, or 
suddenly disconnect undivided things. Thus the second woman 
is irresistibly tempted to rewrite the first letter, as if a tempta¬ 
tion could function autonomously and ironically, as if the very 
idea could be seductive. A game without end, in which the signs 
participate spontaneously, as if from a continuous sense of iro¬ 
ny. Perhaps the signs want to be seduced, perhaps they desire, 
more profoundly than men, to seduce and be seduced. 

★ ★ ★ 

Perhaps signs are not destined to enter into fixed oppositions 
for meaningful ends, that being only their present destination. 
Their actual destiny is perhaps quite different: to seduce each 
other and, thereby, seduce us. If such is the case, an entirely 
different logic would lie behind their secret circulation. 

Can one imagine a theory that would treat signs in terms of 
their seductive attraction, rather than their contrasts and op¬ 
positions? Which would break with the specular nature of the 
sign and the encoumbrance of the referent? An in which the 
terms would play amongst themselves within the framework 
of an enigmatic duel and an inexorable reversibility? 

Suppose that all the major, diacritical oppositions with which 
we order our world were traversed by seduction, instead of be¬ 
ing based on contrasts and oppositions. Suppose not just that 


104 SEDUCTION 


the feminine seduces the masculine, but that absence seduces 
presence, cold seduces hot, the subject seduces the object, and 
to be sure, the reverse. For seduction supposes that minimum 
reversibility which puts an end to every fixed opposition and, 
therefore, every conventional semiology. Towards an inverted 
semiology? 

One might imagine (but why imagine it, when it occured in 
ancient Greece) that gods and mortals, instead of being sepa¬ 
rated by the moral abyss of religion, sought to seduce each other 
and, indeed, maintained no other relations but those of seduc¬ 
tion. Moreover, perhaps all the major distinctions we use to 
decipher the world and confine it within its prison of mean¬ 
ing, those between, for example, good and evil, or true and 
false - all the terms that have been so carefully distinguished 
at such enormous costs of energy - have not always succeed¬ 
ed. The real catastrophes, the real revolutions always consist 
in the implosion of one of these two-term systems. A universe, 
or fragment of the universe, then comes to an end - though 
usually this implosion occurs slowly, the terms being gradual¬ 
ly worn down. At present we are witnessing the slow and simul¬ 
taneous erosion of all the polar structures, and the movement 
towards a universe that is losing the very dimension of mean¬ 
ing. Disinvested, disenchanted, and disaffected - the end of the 
world as will and representation. 

But this neutralization is not seductive. Seduction pushes the 
terms towards each other, and unites them at a point of maxi¬ 
mum energy and charm; it does not blur them together in a 
state of minimum intensity. 

Now suppose that wherever relations of opposition presently 
exist, relations of seduction are put into play. Imagine a flash 
of seduction that causes the polar or differential, transistorized 
circuits of meaning to melt? There are examples of of a non- 
diacritical semiology (that is to say, a non-semiology). The ele¬ 
ments of the ancient cosmogony, for example, did not enter 
into structural relations of classification (water/fire, air/earth, 
etc.): they were not “distinctive” elements, but “attractive” ele¬ 
ments that seduced each other: water seduces fire, water 
seduced by fire. 

Such seduction is still quite strong in the duel relations of 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 105 


non-individualized castes and hierarchies, and in the analogi¬ 
cal systems that preceded our logical systems of differentiation. 
And no doubt logical sequences of meaning are still worked 
over by analogical sequences of seduction - like an immense 
flash of inspiration that, at a single stroke, brings opposites 
together. Beneath meaning lies the secret circulation of seduc¬ 
tive analogies. 

We are not, however, dealing with a new version of univer¬ 
sal attraction. The diagonals or transversals of seduction may 
well break the oppositions between terms; they do not lead 
to fused or con-fused relations (that’s mysticism) but to dual 
relations. It is not a matter of a mystical fusion of subject or 
object, or signifier and signified, masculine and feminine, etc., 
but of a seduction, that is, a duel and agonistic relation. 

★ ★ ★ 

A mirror hangs on the opposite wall 
she does not reflect on it 
but the mirror reflects her 

Diary of the Seducer 3 

The seducer’s strategm will be to merge with the mirror on 
the opposite wall in which the girl is reflected. She does not 
give it a thought, but the mirror is reflecting on her. 

One should distrust the humility of mirrors. The humble ser¬ 
vants of appearances, they can reflect only the objects that face 
them, without being able to conceal themselves. The whole 
world is grateful to them (except in death when, for this rea¬ 
son, one veils them); they are the watchdogs of appearance. 
But their faithfulness is specious, for they are waiting for some¬ 
one to catch himself in their reflection. One does not easily 
forget their sidelong gaze. They recognize you, and when they 
surprise you when you least expect it, your time has come. 

Such is the seducer’s strategy: he gives himself the humility 
of the mirror, but a skilful mirror, like Perseus’ shield, in which 


3. S0ren Kierkegaard, Diary of the Seducer, appended to Either/Or (Princeton: 
Princeton University Press, 1971) p. 311. 



106 SEDUCTION 


Medusa found herself petrified. The girl too is going to fall cap¬ 
tive to the mirror that reflects and analyzes her without her 
knowledge. 

He who does not know how to compass a girl 
about so that she loses sight of everything which 
he does not wish her to see, he who does not 
know how to poetize himself in a girl’s feeling so 
that it is from her that everything issues as he wish¬ 
es it, he is and remains a bungler; I do not 
begrudge him his enjoyment. A bungler he is and 
remains, a seducer, something one can by no me¬ 
ans call me. I am an aesthete, an eroticist, one who 
has understood the nature and meaning of love, 
who believes in love and knows it from the ground 
up... I know, too, that the highest conceivable en¬ 
joyment lies in being loved... To poetize oneself 
into a young girl is an art, to poetize oneself out 
of her is a masterpiece, (pp. 363-64) 

Seduction is never linear, and does not wear a mask (that is 
vulgar seduction) - it is oblique. 

...what weapon is so sharp, so penetrating, so, flash¬ 
ing in action, and hence so deceptive, as the eye? 

You feint a high quart, as fencers say, and attack 
in second... The moment of the feint is indescrib¬ 
able. The opponent, as it were, feels the slash, he 
is touched! Aye, that is true, but in quite a differ¬ 
ent place from where he thought, (p. 314) 

I do not meet her, I touch only the periphery of 
her existence I prefer to arrive a little early and 
then to meet her, if possible, at the door or upon 
the steps as she is coming and I am leaving, when 
I pass her by indifferently. This is the first net in 
which she must be entangled. I never stop her on 
the street; I may bow to her, but I never come; close 
to her, but always keep my distance. Our continu- 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 107 


al encounters are certainly noticeable to her; she 
does indeed perceive that a new body has ap¬ 
peared on her horizon whose orbit in a strangely 
imperturbable manner affects her own disturbing¬ 
ly, but she has no conception of the law govern¬ 
ing this movement; she is rather inclined to look 
about to see if she can discover the point controll¬ 
ing it, but she is as ignorant of being herself this 
focus as if she were a Chinaman, (pp. 336-37) 

There is another type of indirect reverberation: hypnosis, a 
sort of psychic mirror in which, once again, the girl is reflect¬ 
ed without her awareness, under someone else’s gaze: 

Today my eyes have for the first time rested upon 
her. Someone has said that sleep can make the eye¬ 
lids so heavy that they close of themselves; perhaps 
my glance has a similar effect upon Cordelia. Here 
eyes close, and yet an obscure force stirs within 
her. She does not see that I am looking at her, she 
feels it, feels it through her whole body. Her eyes 
close, and it is night; but within her it is luminous 
day. (pp. 360-61) 

This obliquity of seduction is not duplicity. Where a linear 
movement knocks against the wall of consciousness and ac¬ 
quires only meager gains, seduction has the obliquity of a dream 
element or stroke of wit, and as such traverses the psychic 
universe and its different levels in a single diagonal, in order 
to touch, at the far end, the unknown blind spot, the secret 
that lies sealed, the enigma that constitutes the girl, even to 
herself. 

Seduction has two simultaneous moments, or two instants 
of a single moment. Her entire character, all her feminine 
resources must be mobilized, and simultaneously suspended. 
It is not a question of surprising her in the passivity of her in¬ 
nocence; her freedom of action must be in play. Because it is 
by this freedom, by its movement - and by the curves and sud¬ 
den twists imparted to it by seduction - that she must, seem¬ 
ingly spontaneously, reach that point where, unbeknownst to 




108 SEDUCTION 


herself, she will be lost. Seduction engages a fate; and in order 
for it to be realized, she must be completely free, but in her 
freedom she must reach out, as if somnabulistically, towards 
her own fall. The girl must be plunged into this second state 
which reduplicates the first, the state of grace and sovereignty. 
And this second, somnambulistic state must be sustained, so 
that a passion, once awakened and intoxicated with itself, slips 
into the trap fate has set for it. “Her eyes close, and it is night, 
but within her it is luminous day.” 

Omissions, denials, deflections, deceptions, diversions and 
humility - all aimed at provoking this second state, the secret 
of true seduction. Vulgar seduction might proceed by persis¬ 
tence, but true seduction proceeds by absence; or better it in¬ 
vents a kind of curved space, where the signs are deflected from 
their trajectory and returned to their source. This state of sus¬ 
pense is essential: it is the moment of the girl’s disarray before 
what awaits her, even as she knows - and this is something new 
and already fatal - that something awaits her. A moment of high 
intensity, a “spiritual” moment (in Kierkegaard’s sense), simi¬ 
lar to that in games of chance between the throw and the mo¬ 
ment when the dice stop rolling. 

Thus the first time he hears her give out her address, he re¬ 
fuses to remember it: 

I will not listen to it, for I do not wish to deprive 
myself of surprise; I shall certainly meet her again 
in life, I shall recognize her, and perhaps she will 
recognize me... If she does not recognize me, if 
her glance does not immediately convince me of 
that, then I shall surely find an opportunity to look 
at her from the side. I promise that she will remem¬ 
ber the situation. No impatience, no greediness, 
everything should be enjoyed in leisurely draughts; 
she is marked out, she shall be run down. (p. 312) 

The seducer is playing with himself. At this point it is not 
even a ruse, with the seducer being the one delighted at the 
seduction’s deferment. This, the pleasure of the approach, 
should not be slighted; for it is in this interval that he begins 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 109 


to dig the pit into which she will fall. It is like fencing: one needs 
a field for the feint. Throughout this period, the seducer, far 
from seeking to close in on her, seeks to maintain his distance 
by various ploys: he does not speak directly to her but only 
to her aunt, and then about trivial or stupid subjects; he neu¬ 
tralizes everything by irony and feigned pedanticism; he fails 
to respond to any feminine or erotic movement, and even finds 
her a sitcom suitor to disenchant her of her love. To keep one’s 
distance, to put her off, to disenchant and deceive her, to the 
point where she herself takes the initiative and breaks off her 
engagement, thus completing the seduction and creating the 
ideal situation for her total abandon. 

The seducer knows how to let the signs hang. He knows that 
they are favourable only when left suspended, and will move 
of themselves towards their appointed destiny. He does not use 
the signs up all at once, but waits for the moment when they 
will all respond, one after the other, creating an entirely unique 
conjuncture of giddiness and collapse. 

When she is in the company of the three Jansens 
she talks very little, their chatter evidently bores 
her, and certainly the smile on her lips seems to 
indicate it. I am relying on that smile. 

Today I went to Mrs. Jansen’s. I half opened the 
door without knocking... She sat alone at the pi¬ 
ano... I might have rushed in, seized the moment 
- that would have been foolish. ...She is evident¬ 
ly concealing the fact that she plays... When some¬ 
time I can talk more confidentially with her, I shall 
slyly lead her to this point and let her fall into the 
trap. (pp. 338-9). 

He has not reached the vulgar diversions, the bits of liber¬ 
tine bravura, the erotic whims (which will occupy an increas¬ 
ingly large part of the story, with Cordelia hardly ever appearing 
except beneath a lively, libertine imagination: “To love one alone 
is too little; to love them all suggests the lightness of a superfi¬ 
cial character; but to love as many as possible... What pleasure! 
What a life!”) He has not acceded to the frivolous seduction 


I 


110 SEDUCTION 

which is not part of the “grand game” of seduction, with its 
philosophy of obliquity and diversion. The “grand” seduction 
may make its way secretly along the same paths as vile seduc¬ 
tion, but will play them as suspense or parody. Confusion is 
not possible: the one is a game of love, the other a spiritual 
duel. All the interludes only accentuate the slow, calculated, 
and inevitable rhythm of “high” seduction. The mirror still 
hangs on the opposite wall, even if we are no longer aware of 
it - and time in Cordelia’s heart is on the march. 

The process seems to reach its lowest point with the.seducer’s 
betrothal. Here one has the impression of having attained a point 
of extreme numbness, where the seducer pushes the subter¬ 
fuge of disenchantment or dissuasion to an almost perverse 
degree of mortification. And one has the impression that, as 
a result, Cordelia’s spirit is broken, her femininity run down, 
neutralized by the illusions that surround her. The moment of 
the engagement - which “has so much importance for a young 
girl that her entire soul can be fixed on it, like that of a dying 
man on his last will” - this moment, Cordelia will live without 
understanding, deprived of every reaction, muzzled, circum¬ 
vented. 

One word, and she would have laughed at me, one 
word, and she would have been moved, one word, 
and she would have fled from me; but no word 
crossed my lips, I remained stolidly serious, and 
kept exactly to the ritual. As regards my engage¬ 
ment, I do not boast that it is poetic, it is in every 
way philistine and bourgeois. So now I am en¬ 
gaged; so is Cordelia (so is Cordelia!) and that is 
all she knows about the whole matter, (pp. 370-71) 

It is all a kind of ordeal, as found in initiation rites. The in¬ 
itiated must pass through a phase that marks his or her death, 
not as pathetic suffering, but as nothingness, as emptiness - 
the final moment before the passion’s illumination and the erotic 
abandon. In a sense, the seducer adds an ascetic moment to 
the aesthetic movement he imparts to the whole. . 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 111 


Generally I can assure any girl who entrusts her¬ 
self to me a perfect aesthetic conduct: only it ends 
with her being deceived... (p. 375) 

There is a sort of humour in the fact that the engagement 
coincides with the apparent disappearance of all that was at 
stake in the seduction. What in the bourgeois vision of the 
nineteenth century constitutes a joyous prelude to marriage, 
is here an austere initiation into the sublime ends of passion 
(which are, simultaneously, the calculated ends of seduction) 
by the somnabulist passage across the deserts of betrothal. 
(Don’t forget that the engagement was a crucial moment in the 
life of many a romantic, including Kierkegaard, but also and 
more dramatically of Kleist, Holderlin, Novalis and Kafka. A pain¬ 
ful moment of seemingly endless frustration, the almost mys¬ 
tical passion sustained by the engagement was perhaps (let us 
drop all talk of sexual impotence!) a matter of suspension, of 
a suspended enchantment, haunted by the fear of sexual or 
matrimonial disenchantment.) 

However, Johannes continues to live the invisible dance of 
seduction, even as his objective and its presence appear to have 
faded. Indeed, he will never live it more intensely, for it is here, 
in the nullity, in the absence, in the mirror’s face that its tri¬ 
umph is assured: she cannot but break off her former engage¬ 
ment and throw herself into his arms. All the fire of her passion 
lies revealed, just beneath the surface, in its transparence. He 
will never again find it as beautiful as in this premonition, for 
at this moment the girl still remains predestined - which will 
no longer be the case once this moment is over. 

Now the giddiness of seduction, as of every passion, lies above 
all with its predestination. The latter alone provides that fatal 
quality at the basis of all pleasure - that stroke of wit, as it were, 
which ties, as if in advance, a movement of the soul to its des¬ 
tiny and its death. Here lies the seducer’s triumph. And here, 
in the invisible dance of the betrothal, one is able to see his 
knowledge of seduction, of true seduction, as a spiritual 
economy. 

My relation to her is that of an unseen partner in 




112 SEDUCTION 


a dance which is danced by only one, when it 
should really be danced by two. She moves as in 
a dream, and yet she dances with another, and this 
other is myself, who, in so far as I am visibly 
present, am invisible, in so far I am invisible, am 
visible. The movements of the dance require a part¬ 
ner, she bows to him, she takes his hand, she flees, 
she draws near him again. I take her hand, I com¬ 
plete her thought as if it were completed'in her¬ 
self. She moves to the inner melody of her own 
soul; I am only the occasion for her movement. 

/ am not amorous, that would only awaken her; 

I am easy, yielding, impersonal, almost like a 
mood. (p. 376) 

Thus seduction is presented in a single movement as: 

- a conspiracy of power: a sacrificial form. 

- a murder and, ultimately, a perfect crime. 

- a work of art: “Seduction considered as one pf the Beaux- 
Arts” (like murder, to be sure). 

- a stroke of wit or flash of inspiration: a “spiritual” economy. 
With the same duel complity as a stroke of wit, where every¬ 
thing is exchanged allusively, without being spelled out, the 
equivalent of the allusive, ceremonial exchange of a secret. 

- an ascetic form of a spiritual, but also pedagogical ordeal: 
a sort of school of passion, a simultaneously erotic and ironic 
maieutics. 

I shall always acknowledge that a young girl is a 
born teacher, from whom one can always learn, 
if nothing else, how to deceive her - for one only 
learns this best from the girls themselves... (pp. 
382-83) 

Every young girl is, in relation to the labryinth of 
her heart, an Ariadne; she holds the thread by 
which one finds his way through it, but she has 
it, without herself knowing how to use it. (p. 396) 



SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 113 


- a form of duel or war, an agonal form. It never takes the form 
of violence or a relation of force, but of a war game. In it one 
discovers the two simultaneous movements of seduction, as 
found in every strategy: 

So now the first war with Cordelia begins, in which 
I flee, and thereby teach her to triumph in pursu¬ 
ing me. I constantly retreat before her, and in this 
retreat, I teach her through myself to know all the 
power of love, its unquiet thoughts, its passion, 
what longing is, and hope, and impatient expec¬ 
tation... She will gain courage to believe in love... 

She must never suspect that she owes this freedom 
to me... When she at last feels free, so free that she 
is almost tempted to break with me, then the se¬ 
cond war begins. Now she has power and passion, 
and the struggle becomes worthwhile to me. 

Let her forsake me, the second war is just begin¬ 
ning. .. The first war was a war of liberation, it was 
only a game; the second is a war of conquest, it 
is for life and death, (pp. 379-80) 

The stakes are all organized around the girl as mythical figure. 
Both adversary and objective in this many-sided duel, she is, 
therefore, neither a sex object nor a figure of the Eternal Femi¬ 
nine - the two great, Western references to woman are equally 
foreign to seduction. And there is no more an ideal victim or 
ideal subject (the girl and her seducer respectively), than there 
is an executioner and victim in a sacrifice. The fascination she 
exercises is that of a mythical figure, an enigmatic partner, a 
protagonist equal to the seducer in this almost liturgical realm 
of challenge and duel. 


★ ★ ★ 

How different from Les Liaisons Dangereuses! In Laclos the 
woman to be seduced appears as a stronghold to be taken, in 
the manner of the military strategy of the period - the strategy 



114 SEDUCTION 


may be less static than before, but the objective remains the 
same, her surrender. The Presidente is a fortress to be besieged, 
and she must fall. There is no seduction here - only siegecraft. 

Where there is seduction is not in the relation between 
seducer and victim, but in that between the seducers, de 
Valmont and Merteuil, who share a criminal conspiracy by in¬ 
terposed victims. Similarly in the Marquis de Sade, there is only 
the secret society glorifying in its crimes, while the victims are 
nullities. 

There is none of the subtle art of the turnaround which al¬ 
ready appears in Sun-Tseu’s Art of War, or in zen philosophy 
and the oriental martial arts. Or as here, in seduction, where 
the girl, her passion and liberty, are very much .a part of the 
strategy’s unfolding. “She was an enigma that, enigmatically, 
possessed in her its own resolution.” 1 

★ ★ ★ 

In this duel, everything turns on the movement from ethics 
to aesthetics, from a naive to a conscious passion : 

So far I should call her passion a naive passion. 

When the change comes, and I begin to draw back 
in earnest then she will really muster all her 
resources in order to captivate me. She has no way 
to accomplish this except by means of the ;erotic, 
but this will now appear on a very different scale. 

It then becomes the weapon in her hand which 
she swings against me. Then I have the reflected 
passion. She fights for her own sake because she 
knows that I possess the erotic; she fights for her 
own sake in order to overcome me. She develops 
in herself a higher form of the erotic. What I taught 
her to suspect by inflaming her, my coldness now 
teaches her to understand, but in such a way that 
she believes she discovered it herself. Through this 
she will try to take me by surprise; she will be¬ 
lieve that her boldness has outstripped me, and 
that she has thereby caught me. Then her passion 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 115 


becomes definite, energetic, conclusive, logical; her 
kiss total, her embrace firm. (p. 406) 

The ethics is formed of simplicity and naturalness (includ¬ 
ing the simplicity of desire), of which the girl’s naive grace and 
spontaneity are a part. The aesthetics is formed of artifice, the 
play of signs - it is seduction. Every ethics must resolve itself 
into an aesthetics. For Kierkegaard’s seducer, as for Schiller, 
Holderlin, or even Marcuse, the passage to aesthetics is the 
highest movement granted the human species. But the seducer’s 
aesthetics is quite different: it is not divine and transcendent, 
but ironic and diabolical; it does not have the form of an ideal, 
but of a stroke of wit; it does not go beyond ethics; it is deflec¬ 
tion, inflection, seduction, and transfiguration, as realized by 
the mirror of deception. This, however, is not to say that the 
seducer’s strategy is perverse; it is a part of that aesthetics of 
irony which seeks to transform a vulgar, physical eroticism into 
a passion, and stroke of wit. 

I have noticed that she always calls me mine when 
she writes to me; but she lacks the courage to say 
it to me. Today I begged her to do it, with all the 
insinuating and erotic warmth possible. She start¬ 
ed to do so; an ironic glance, indescribably swift 
and brief, was enough to make it impossible for 
her, although my lips urged her with all their 
might. This mood is entirely normal, (p. 419) 

Erotically she is completely equipped for the strug¬ 
gle, she fights with the darts of her eyes, with the 
command of her brows, with the secretiveness of 
her forehead, with the eloquence of her bosom, 
with the dangerous allurement of the embrace, 
with the prayer of her lips, with the smile on her 
face, with all the sweet longing of her entire be¬ 
ing. There is a power in her, an energy, as if she 
were a valkyrie; but this erotic force is in turn tem¬ 
pered by a certain languishing weakness which is 
breathed out over her. — She must not be held too 
long at this peak... (p. 419) 


116 SEDUCTION 


Irony always prevents the mortal emotional demonstrations 
that anticipate the game’s end and threaten to cut short the un¬ 
tried possibilities held by each of the players. Seduction alone 
can deploy the latter, but only by keeping things in suspense, 
by an ironic clinamen, and by that disillusion which leaves the 
field of aesthetics open. 

Sometimes the seducer has his weaknesses. Thus it happens 
that in a surfeit of emotion he launches into a panegyric to fe¬ 
male beauty in its infinite divisibility, detailed in its minute erotic 
variations (pp. 423-24), and then assembled into a single figure, 
within the heated imagination of an inflamed desire. A vision 
of God — but immediately taken up and turned around in the 
imagination of the Devil, in the cold imagination of appearances. 
Woman is man’s dream — God, moreover, drew her from man 
when he was asleep. She therefore has all the traits of a dream, 
and in her, one might say, the diurnal scraps of the real com¬ 
bine to form a mirage. 

She awakens first at the touch of love; before that 
time she is a dream. Yet in her dream life we can 
distinguish two stages: in the first love dreams 
about her; in the second, she dreams about love 
(P- 425) 

The end comes when she has given herself fully. She is dead, 
she has lost the grace of her appearance and become her sex; 
she becomes a woman. For one last moment. “[W]hen she then 
stands decked out as a bride, and all the magnificence of her 
attire pales before her beauty, and she herself turns pale...” 
(p. 431), she still has the splendour of appearances — but soon 
it will be too late. 


★ ★ ★ 

Such is the metaphysical lot of the seducer. Beauty, mean¬ 
ing, substance, and above everything else, God are ethically 
jealous of themselves. Most things are ethically possessive; they 
keep their secrets, and watch over their meanings. Seduction, 
being on the side of the appearances and the Devil, is aestheti¬ 
cally possessive. 

After the final abandonment (Cordelia abandons herself, and 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 117 


she is immediately abandoned), Johannes asks himself: “Have 
I been constantly faithful to my pact in my relation to Corde¬ 
lia? That is to say, my pact with the aesthetic. For it is this which 
makes me strong, that I always have the idea on my side... Has 
the interesting always been preserved?” (p. 432). Merely to 
seduce is interesting only in the first degree; but here it is a 
matter of what is interesting in the second degree. This dou¬ 
bling is the secret of the aesthetics. Only what is interesting 
about the interesting has seduction’s aesthetic force. 

In a sense, the seducer strives to have the girl’s natural charms 
rise to and shine in the world of pure appearances, i.e., in the 
sphere of seduction — and there destroy them. For most things, 
alas, have meaning and depth; but only some of them rise to 
the level of appearances, and they alone are truly seductive. 
Seduction lies in the transformation of things into pure ap¬ 
pearances. 


★ ★ ★ 

That is how seduction is realized as myth, in the giddiness 
of appearances, just before being committed to reality. “Every¬ 
thing is symbol; I myself am a myth about myself, for is it not 
as a myth that I hasten to this meeting? ...Drive now for dear 
life, even if the horses drop dead, only not a single second be¬ 
fore we reach the place.” (p. 439) 

A single night, and it’s all over. “I hope never to see her again.” 
She gives everything and falls, like those countless virgins of 
Greek mythology who were transformed into flowers, and there¬ 
by achieved a vegetative and lugubrious grace, the echo of the 
seduction grace of their first life. But, adds Kierkegaard’s seducer 
cruelly: “...the time is past when a girl suffering the pain of a 
faithless love can be changed into a sunflower.” (p. 439) And 
in a still more cruel and unexpected manner: “If I were a god, 
I would do for her what Neptune did for a nymph: I would 
change her into a man.” (p. 440). In a word, the woman does 
not exist. Only the girl exists by the sublime nature of her state, 
and the man, by his power to destroy her. 

But the mythical passion of seduction does not cease to be 
ironic. It is crowned with one last melancholy stroke: the ar- 


118 SEDUCTION 


rangement of the interior that will be the setting for the lovers’ 
abandon. One last moment of suspense as the seducer brings 
together all the scattered lines of his strategy and contemplates 
them as though before death. What should have been a trium¬ 
phant setting is already no more than the doleful site of a defunct 
story. Everything in this house is reconstituted so as to seize 
hold of Cordelia’s imagination at a stroke, at that final moment 
when she is to be toppled. There is the cabinet in which they 
met, with the same sofa, the same lamp, the same tea table, as 
it was all “purported to be” yesterday, and is here today, by vir¬ 
tue of an exact resemblance. On the open piano, on the music- 
rest the same little Swedish melody — Cordelia will enter by 
the door at the back. Everything is foreseen: she will discover 
all the scenes they lived together recapitulated. The illusion is 
perfect. In fact, the game has reached its end, but the seducer 
reaches new heights of irony by bringing together all the threads 
he has woven since the beginning in one last display of fire¬ 
works, which is, at the same time, a parodic funeral oration to 
their consummated love. 

After which Cordelia will no longer appear, except in sever¬ 
al desperate letters that open the story, and even her despair 
is strange. She was not exactly deceived or dispossessed, but 
spiritually diverted by a game whose rules she was not aware 
of. She was played with, as though under a spell. She has the 
impression of having been, without realizing it, the trophy in 
some very intimate and devastating plot, the object of a spiritual 
abduction. In effect, she was robbed of her own seduction, 
which was then turned against her. Hers is a nameless fate, and 
the stupor that results is different from mere despair. 

Such victims were of a quite distinct nature. 
...There was no visible change in their appearance; 
they maintained their customary relationships, as 
respected as ever, and yet they were changed, 
almost inexplicably to themselves... Their lives 
were not like those snapped off or broken, but 
they had become introspective; lost to others, they 
vainly sought to find themselves, (p. 303), 


THE FEAR OF BEING SEDUCED 


If seduction is a passion or destiny, it is usually the opposite 
passion that prevails - that of not being seduced. We struggle 
to confirm ourselves in our truth: we fight against that which 
seeks to seduce us. 

In this struggle all means are acceptable, ranging from relent¬ 
lessly seducing the other in order not to be seduced oneself, 
to pretending to be seduced in order to cut all seduction short. 

★ ★ ★ 

The hysteric combines the passion of seduction with that of 
simulation. She protects herself from seduction by offering 
booby-trapped signs which, even as they put themselves for¬ 
ward in exaggerated fashion, cannot be believed. The scruples, 
the excessive remorse, the pathetic advances and endless en¬ 
treaties, her way of spinning events so that they dissolve and 
she herself becomes elusive, the giddiness she imposes on 
others, and the deception - it is all seductive deterrence, whose 
obscure objective is less to seduce than to never let oneself 
seduce. 

The hysteric has no intimacy, emotions, or secrets. She is en¬ 
tirely given over to external blackmail, to the ephemeral but 
total credibility of her “symptoms,” the absolute need to be be- 


120 SEDUCTION 


lieved (like the mythomaniac with his stories) but at the same 
time, to disappoint all belief - and this without appealing to 
some shared delusion. An uncompromising demand, but com¬ 
pletely insensitive as to its response. A demand that is put into 
question by its choreography, and by the effect of its signs. 
Seduction too mocks the truth of signs, but makes it into a rever¬ 
sible appearance, while the hysteric plays with the signs but 
without sharing them. It is as if she appropriated the entire 
process of seduction for herself, as if she was bidding with her¬ 
self, while leaving the other only the ultimatum of her hysteri¬ 
cal conversion, without any possible reversion. The hysteric 
succeeds in making her own body a barrier to seduction: a 
seductress paralyzed by her own body and fascinated by her 
own symptoms. And who seeks to petrify others in turn, by 
an elusiveness that seeks to allay suspicions, but remains only 
a pathetic psychodrama. If seduction is a challenge, hysteria is 
blackmail. 

Most signs and messages today solicit us in this hysterical man¬ 
ner. They would make-us-believe, make-us-speak and make-us- 
come by dissuasion. They would blackmail us with a blind, psy- 
chodramatic transaction, using signs devoid of meaning, that 
multiply and hypertrophy precisely because they no longer have 
any secrets or credibility. Signs without faith, without affect or 
history, signs terrified at the idea of signifying - just as the hys¬ 
teric is terrified at the idea of being seduced. 

In reality, the inner absence that inheres in the self terrifies 
the hysteric. She must drain herself, with her continual play, 
of this absence in the secrecy of which she could be loved, and 
could love herself. In this way she forms a mirror behind which 

- near suicide, but turning suicide, like everything else, into a 
bothersome, theatrical process of seduction - she remains im¬ 
mortal in her “spectacular” domain. 

The same process, but reversed, can be found in anorexia, 
frigidity and impotence. By turning one’s body into a mirror 

- but a mirror that has, as it were, been turned against the wall 
by effacing the potential seductiveness of one’s body - by dis¬ 
enchanting and desexualizing it, one is still resorting to black¬ 
mail and delivering an ultimatum: “You will not seduce me, I 
dare you to try.” Seduction, however, shows through in its very 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 121 


negation, since the dare is one of its fundamental forms. A 
challenge must be met with a response, (without wanting to) 
a challenge has to let itself seduce - but here the game has been 
closed down. And closed down all the more emphatically by 
the body, by its dramatization of a refusal of seduction - while 
the hysteric gets out of the game by dram a tizing a demand for 
seduction. In both cases, however, seduction, whether as 
seducer or seduced, is denied. 

The problem, therefore, is not one of sexual or alimentary 
impotence, with its train of psychoanalytic reasons and unrea¬ 
son, but concerns an impotence as regards seduction . The dis¬ 
affection, neurosis, anguish and frustration encountered by 
psychoanalysis comes no doubt from being unable to love or 
to be loved, from being unable to give or take pleasure, but the 
radical disenchantment comes from seduction and its failure. 
Only those who lie completely outside seduction are ill, even 
if they remain fully capable of loving and making love. Psy¬ 
choanalysis believes it treats the disorders of sex and desire, 
but in reality it is dealing with the disorders of seduction (which 
it has helped, not inconsiderably, to place outside seduction 
and imprison within the dilemma of sex). The most serious defi¬ 
ciencies always concern charm and not pleasure, enchantment 
and not some vital or sexual satisfaction, the (game’s) rule and 
not the (symbolic) Law. To be deprived of seduction is the only 
true form of castration. 

Fortunately, the latter continuously fails. Seduction rises like 
the phoenix from the ashes, with the subject being unable to 
prevent all this from again becoming, as with anorexia or im¬ 
potence, a last desperate attempt at seduction, and the denial 
from again becoming a dare. Perhaps it is in these aggravated 
forms of sexual self-denial that seduction expresses itself in its 
purest form, since it still asks the other to: “Prove to me that 
it’s not just a matter of ‘that.’ ” 

★ ★ * 

There are other passions opposed to seduction, though for¬ 
tunately, they too usually fail when taken to extremes. The pas¬ 
sion for collecting, for example, the fetishism of the collector. 


122 SEDUCTION 


Its antagonistic affinity with seduction is strong, perhaps be¬ 
cause it too involves a game with rules, whose intensity is such 
that it can substitute itself for any other game. For it too invokes 
a passion for an abstraction that defies every moral law, in 
order to maintain the rigid ceremonial of the closed universe 
within which the subject confines himself. 

The collector is possessive. He seeks exclusive rights over the 
dead object with which he appeases his fetishist passion. Reclu¬ 
sion and confinement: beyond all else he is collecting himself. 
And he is not to be distracted from his madness, since his love 
of the object, the amorous stratagems with which he surrounds 
it, display a hatred and fear of seduction. And not just the seduc¬ 
tiveness of the object: he is just as repelled by any seduction 
that might emanate from himself. 

The Collector, the film and novel, illustrate this delirium. The 
protagonist, being unable to seduce or be loved (but does he 
want seduction and the spontaneity of love? certainly not - he 
wants to force the seduction, he wants to force love), kidnaps 
a young woman and confines her in the basement of his coun¬ 
try house, which has been specially equipped for the purpose. 
He installs her, cares for her, surrounds her with numerous 
courtesies, but checks all attempts at escape, outsmarts all her 
ruses, and will spare her only if she admits herself defeated and 
seduced, only if, in the end, she loves him spontaneously. In 
time, however, with this forced promiscuity, an indecisive and 
troubled connivence forms between them - and one evening 
he invites her to dine upstairs, with all precautions taken. And 
what happens? She genuinely tries to seduce him and offers 
herself to him. Perhaps she loves him at this moment, perhaps 
she only wants to disarm him. Both no doubt. But whatever 
the case, her behaviour provokes a panic reaction, and he hits 
her, insults her and throws her back in the cave. He no longer 
respects her, he undresses her and takes pornographic pictures 
which he places in a photo album (he collects butterflies, and 
has shown her his collection with pride). She gets sick and falls 
into a sort of coma: he no longer cares for her- she dies and 
he buries her in his yard. In the last scene, he is seen looking 
for another woman to kidnap and seduce at whatever cost. 

A need to be loved, but an inability to be seduced. When, 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 123 


finally, the woman is seduced (it is enough that she wants to 
seduce him) he cannot accept his victory: he prefers to see it 
as a sexual malediction and punishes her. It is not a question 
of impotence (it is never a question of impotence). He prefers 
the possessive spell cast by a collection of dead objects - the 
dead sex object being as beautiful as a butterfly with flores- 
cent wings - to the seduction of a living being who would de¬ 
mand his love in return. He prefers the monotonous fascination 
of the collection, the fascination with dead differences, this ob¬ 
session with the same, over the seduction of the other. This 
is why one senses from the beginning that she will die, not be¬ 
cause he is a dangerous madman, but because he is logical, moti¬ 
vated by an irreversible logic. To seduce without being seduced 
- without reversibility. 

In this case, one of the two terms must die, and it is always 
the same since the other is already dead. The other is immor¬ 
tal and indestructible, as in every perversion. This is illustrated 
by the fact that the film ends where it began (and not without 
humour - possessive people, like perverse people, have a good 
sense of humour outside the sphere of their obsession, including 
in the minutiae of their proceedings). In any case, the collec¬ 
tor has enclosed himself within an insoluble logic: all the signs 
of love she can give him will be interpreted in a contrary man¬ 
ner. And the most tender will be the most suspect. He might 
perhaps be satisfied with the appropriate signs, but he cannot 
bear the genuine enticements of love. Within his logic, she has 
signed her own death warrant, 

This is not a story about sadism - it is too moving. Who said 
that the best proof of love is to respect the other and his or 
her desires? Perhaps the price paid by beauty and seduction 
is to be confined and put to death, because they are too dan¬ 
gerous, and because one will never be able to render her what 
she has given. One can then only reward her with her death. 
In a sense, the girl recognizes this since she responds to this 
higher seduction offered her in the metaphor of her confine¬ 
ment. It is just that she cannot respond except by offering her¬ 
self sexually - and this appears trivial relative to the challenge 
she herself poses by her beauty. Sexual pleasure will never abol¬ 
ish the need for seduction. Formerly all mortals were obliged 


124 SEDUCTION 


to redeem their living bodies with a sacrifice; today all seduc¬ 
tive forms, perhaps all living forms, have to redeem themselves 
by their death. This is a symbolic law - which is, moreover, 
not a law but an unavoidable rule, that is, we adhere to it without 
grounds, as something arbitrary yet obvious, and not in accord 
with some transcendent principle. . 

Should one conclude that every attempt at seduction ends 
with the murder of the object, or that it always - and this is 
a variation on the same theme - involves an attempt to drive 
the other mad? Is the spell one exercises over the other always 
harmful? Is one only seeking to avenge the spell,that the other 
exercises over you? Is the game being played here a game of 
life or death, or at least closer to death than the serene exchange 
of sexual pleasure? To seduce implies that the other will pay 
for the fact of being seduced, that is, for having been torn from 
him/herself and made into an object of sorcery. Here every¬ 
thing obeys the symbolic rule of immediate apportionment 
which dictates the sacrificial relations between men and their 
gods in cultures of cruelty, that is, relations of recognition and 
dispensation of unlimited violence. Now seduction belongs to 
cultures of cruelty, and is the only ceremonial form of the lat¬ 
ter left to us. It is what draws our attention to death, not in its 
organic and accidental form, but as something necessary and 
rigorous, the inevitable consequence of the game’s rules. Death 
remains the ultimate risk in every symbolic pact, be it that sup¬ 
posed by a challenge, a secret, a seduction or a perversion. 

★ ★ ★ 

Seduction and perversion maintain subtle relations. Doesn’t 
seduction imply a form of the diversion of the world’s order? 
And yet, of all the passions, of all the movements of the soul, 
perversion is perhaps the most opposed to seduction. 

Both are cruel and indifferent relative to sex. 

Seduction is something that seizes hold of all pleasures, af¬ 
fects and representations, and gets ahold of dreams themselves 
in order to reroute them from their primary course, turning them 
into a sharper, more subtle game, whose stakes have neither 
an end nor an origin, and concerns neither drives nor desires. 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 125 


If sex has a natural law, a pleasure principle, then seduction 
consists in denying that principle and replacing it with a rule, 
the arbitrary rule of a game. In this sense, seduction is per¬ 
verse. The immorality of perversion, like that of seduction, does 
not come from abandoning oneself to the joys of sex in oppo¬ 
sition to all morality; it results from something more serious 
and subtle, the abandonment of sex itself as a referent and a 
morality, even in its “joys.” 

Play, not sensual pleasure. The pervert is cold when it comes 
to sex. He transmutes sex and sexuality into a ritual carrier, a 
ritual and ceremonial abstraction, a burning concern with signs 
rather than an exchange of desires. With the pervert, all the 
intensity of sex is dispaced onto the signs and their sequence, 
just as in Artaud this intensity is displaced onto the theaterical 
unfolding (the savage irruption of signs into reality). Their vio¬ 
lence is ceremonial - and by no means instinctual; only the 
rite is violent, only the rules of the game are violent, because 
they put an end to the system formed by reality. This is true 
cruelty, and has nothing to do with bloodlust. And in this sense, 
perversion is cruel. 

Perversion’s power of fascination comes from a ritual cult 
based on rules. The pervert is not someone who transgresses 
the law, but someone who eludes the law in order to dedicate 
himself to the rule, someone, then, who evades not just the 
reproductive finality of the sexual order, but that order itself, 
with its symbolic law, in order to link up with a regulated, ritu¬ 
alized, ceremonial form. 

Perversion supposes a contract that is not a contract, that is, 
a transaction between two free agents, but a pact upholding 
the obsevance of a rule. As such it establishes a duel relation 
(like a challenge) that excludes all third parties (unlike a con¬ 
tract) and cannot be dissociated into its individual terms. It is 
this pact, this duel relation, with its web of obligations foreign 
to the law, which renders perversion invulnerable to the exter¬ 
nal world - and impenetrable to analysis in terms of the in¬ 
dividual unconscious, and thus to psychoanalysis. For the realm 
of the rule is not part of psychoanalysis’s jurisdiction, which 
concerns law alone. Perversion, on the other hand, belongs to 
this other universe. 


126 SEDUCTION 


The duel relation abolishes the law of exchange. The rules 
of perversion abolish sex’s natural law. Arbitrary, like the rules 
of a game, the contents are of little consequence; what is es¬ 
sential is the imposition of a rule or sign, or system of signs, 
which abstracts from the sexual order (it might be, as with Klos- 
sowski, coins that, oblivious to the natural law of exchange, 
become the ritual carrier of perversion). 

Hence the affinity between convents, secret societies, Sade’s 
chateaux, and the universe of perversion. The oaths, the rites, 
the interminable Sadian protocols. What joins them together 
is a cult of the rule - and not its absence in licentiousness. And 
within these rules, the pervert or perverse couple can admit 
social strains and distortions without difficulty, since the latter 
concern the law alone (thus, according to Goblot, within the 
the bourgeois class, one can do anything provided the class rule, 
the system of arbitrary signs that defines it as a caste, remains 
unharmed). All transgressions are possible, but not an infrac¬ 
tion of the Rule. 

Thus, in their common challenge to the natural order, per¬ 
version and seduction resemble each other. But on numerous 
occasions they are violently opposed, as in the story of The 
Collector, where a perverse, possessive passion triumphs over 
seduction. Or in the story of “The Dancer” related by Leo 
Scheer: A concentration camp guard forces a young Jewess to 
dance for him before her death. She does so, and as her danc¬ 
ing leaves him spellbound, she is able to approach him, steal 
his weapon and kill him. Of the two universes, that of the SS, 
exemplifying a staggering, perverse power, a power of fascina¬ 
tion (that vested in the sovereignty of the person who holds 
a life in his hands), and that of the girl, exemplifying seduction 
by the dance, the latter triumphs. Seduction invades the order 
of fascination and turns it upside down (though most of the 
time it is not even given the chance to enter). It is clear here 
that the two logics exclude each other, and that each represents 
a mortal danger for the other. 

But isn’t there a continuous cycle of reversion: between the 
two? The collector’s passion ends up, after all, exercising a kind 
of seduction over the girl (or is it only fascination? But, once 
again, where’s the difference?). A certain vertigo results from 


SUPERFICIAL ABYSSES 127 


her desperate attempt to circumscribe a foreclosed universe, 
whereby, at the same time, she discloses a sink hole or void 
that exercises, by its anti-seduction, a new form of attraction. 

A certain kind of seduction is perverse: hysteria, since it uses 
seduction to defend itself from seduction. But a certain per¬ 
version is seductive, since it uses the detour of perversion to 
seduce. 

With hysteria seduction becomes obscene. But in certain 
forms of pornography, obscenity again becomes seductive. Vio¬ 
lence can seduce, and even rape. The odious and the abject can 
seduce. Where does the detour of seduction stop? Where does 
the cycle of reversion end, and should it be stopped? 

However, a profound difference remains: the pervert is radi¬ 
cally suspicious of seduction and tries to codify it. He tries to 
fix its rules, formalize them in a text, express them in a pact. 
In so doing, he breaks a basic rule, that of the secret. Instead 
of upholding seduction’s supple ceremonial, the pervert wants 
a fixed ceremonial, a fixed duel. By making the rule into some¬ 
thing sacred and obscene, by designating it as an end, that is 
to say, as a law , he traces an uncompromising defense: for it 
is the theater of the rule that gains ascendancy, as in hysteria 
the theater of the body. More generally, all the perverse forms 
of seduction have the following in common: they betray its 
secret and the fundamental rule, which is that the rule remain 
unspoken. 

In this sense, the seducer himself is perverse. For he too 
deflects seduction from its rule of secrecy, and does so inten¬ 
tionally. He is to seduction what the cheater is to the game. If 
the purpose of the game is to win, then the cheater is the only 
true player. If seduction had an objective, then the seducer 
would be its ideal figure. But neither seduction nor the game 
can be thus characterized, and there is a good chance that what 
determines the cheater’s actions, his cynical stratagems to win 
at all costs, is his hatred of the game, his rejection of the seduc¬ 
tion proper to the game - just as there is a good chance that 
the seducer’s behaviour is determined by his fear of being 
seduced, and of having to face the risk of a challenge to his 
own truth. This is what leads him to his first sexual conquest, 
and then to the countless conquests where he can fetishize his 


128 SEDUCTION 


strategy. 

The pervert always gets involved in a maniacal universe of 
mastery and the law. He seeks mastery over the fetishized rule 
and absolute ritual circumscription. The latter is no longer play¬ 
ful. It no longer moves. It is dead, and can no long put any¬ 
thing into play except its own death. Fetishism is the seduction 
of death, including the death of the rule in perversion. 

Perversion is a frozen challenge; seduction, a living challenge. 
Seduction is shifting and ephemeral; perversion, monotonous 
and interminable. Perversion is theatrical and complicit; seduc¬ 
tion, secret and reversible. 

★ * ★ 

Systems obsessed with their systematicity are fascinating: they 
tune in death as an energy of fascination. Thus the collector’s 
passion tries to circumscribe and immobilize seduction before 
transforming it into a death energy. It is then the flaw of such 
systems that becomes seductive. Terror is dissipated by irony. 
Or else seduction lies in wait for systems at their point of iner¬ 
tia, that point at which they stop, where there is no longer any 
beyond, nor any possible representation - a point of no return 
where the trajectories slow down and the object is absorbed 
by its own force of resistance and density. What happens in 
the environs of this point of inertia? The object is distorted like 
the sun refracted by the different layers of the horizon; crushed 
by its own mass, it no longer obeys its own laws. We know 
almost nothing about such processes of inertia, except that at 
the edge of this black hole the point of no return becomes a 
point of total reversibility, a catastrophic point where death is 
pulled tight to be released in a new seduction effect. 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF 
SEDUCTION 



THE PASSION FOR RULES 


No player must be greater than the 
game itself 

Rollerball 

The Diary of the Seducer claims that in seduction the sub¬ 
ject is never the master of his master plan, and even when the 
latter is deployed in full consciousness, it still submits to the 
rules of a game that goes beyond it. A ritual dramaturgy be¬ 
yond the law, seduction is both game and fate, and as such push¬ 
es the protagonists towards their inevitable end without the rule 
being broken - for it is the rule that binds them. And the rule’s 
basic dictum is that the game continue whatever the cost, be 
it death itself. There is, then, a sort of passion that binds the 
players to the rule that ties them together - without which the 
game would not be possible. 

Ordinarily we live within the realm of the Law, even when 
fantasizing its abolition. Beyond the law we see only its trans¬ 
gression or the lifting of a prohibition. For the discourse of law 
and interdiction determines the inverse discourse of transgres¬ 
sion and liberation. However, it is not the absence of the law 
that is opposed to the law, but the Rule. 

The Rule plays on an immanent sequence of arbitrary signs, 
while the Law is based on a transcendent sequence of neces¬ 
sary signs. The one concerns cycles, the recurrence of conven¬ 
tional procedures, while the other is an instance based in an 
irreversible continuity. The one involves obligations, the other 
constraints and prohibitions. Because the Law establishes a line, 
it can and must be transgressed. By contrast, it makes no sense 


132 SEDUCTION 


to “transgress” a game’s rules; within a cycle’s recurrence, there 
is no line one can jump (instead, one simply leaves the game). 
Because the Law - whether that of the signifier, castration, or 
a social interdiction - claims to be the discursive sign of a legal 
instance and hidden truth, it results in repression and prohibi¬ 
tions, and thus the division into a manifest and a latent discourse. 
Given that the rule is conventional and arbitrary, and has no 
hidden truth, it knows neither repression nor the distinction 
between the manifest and the latent. It does not carry any mean¬ 
ing, it does not lead anywhere; by contrast, the Law has a de¬ 
terminate finality. The endless, reversible cycle of the Rule is 
opposed to the linear, finalized progression of the Law. 

Signs do not have the same status in the one as in the other. 
The Law is part of the world of representation,’ and is there¬ 
fore subject to interpretation or decipherment. It involves 
decrees or statements, and is not indifferent to the subject. It 
is a text, and falls under the influence of meaning and referen- 
tiality. By contrast, the Rule has no subject, and the form of 
its utterance is of little consequence; one does not decipher 
the rules, nor derive pleasure from their comprehension - only 
their observance matters, and the resulting giddiness. This also 
distinguishes the passion for the game’s rituals and intensity from 
the pleasure that attaches to obedience to the Law, or its trans¬ 
gression. 


★ ★ ★ 

In order to understand the intensity of ritual forms, one must 
rid oneself of the idea that all happiness derives from nature, 
and all pleasure from the satisfaction of a desire. On the con¬ 
trary, games, the sphere of play, reveal a passion for rules, a gid¬ 
diness born of rules, and a force that comes from ceremony, 
and not desire. 

Does the delight one experiences in a game come from a 
dream-like situation, where one moves free of reality, but which 
one can quit at any time? Not at all. Games, unlike dreams, are 
subject to rules, and one just doesn’t leave a game. Games cre¬ 
ate obligations like those found in challenges. To leave a game 
is unsportsmanlike. And the fact that one cannot refuse to play 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 133 


a game from within - a fact that explains its enchantment and 
differentiates it from “reality” - creates a symbolic pact which 
compels one to observe the rules without reserve, and to pur¬ 
sue the game to the end, as one pursues a challenge to the end. 

The order instituted by the game, being conventional, is in¬ 
commensurable with the necessary order of the real world: it 
is neither ethical nor psychological, and its acceptance (the ac¬ 
ceptance of the rules) implies neither resignation nor constraint. 
As such, there is no freedom in our moral and individual sense 
of that term, in games. They are not to be equated with liberty. 
Games do not obey the dialectic of free will, that hypothetical 
dialectic of the sphere of the real and the law. To enter into a 
game is to enter a system of ritual obligations. Its intensity der¬ 
ives from its initiatory form - not from our liberty, as we would 
like to believe, following an ideology that sees only a single, 
“natural” source of happiness and pleasure. 

The game’s sole principle, though it is never posed as univer¬ 
sal, is that by choosing the rule one is delivered from the law. 

Without a psychological or metaphysical foundation, the rule 
has no grounding in belief. One neither believes nor disbelieves 
a rule - one observes it. The diffuse sphere of belief, the need 
for credibility that encompasses the real, is dissolved in the 
game. Hence their immorality: to proceed without believing in 
it, to sanction a direct fascination with conventional signs and 
groundless rules. 

Debts too are annuled. In games there is nothing to redeem, 
no accounts to settle with the past. For this reason, games ap¬ 
pear unaware of the dialectic of the possible and impossible, 
there being no accounts to settle with the future. There is noth¬ 
ing “possible,” since everything is played, everything decided, 
without hope and without alternatives, according to a relent¬ 
less, unmediated logic. That is why there is no laughter around 
the poker table, , for its logic is cool (but not casual); and the 
game being without hope, is never obscene and never lends 
itself to laughter. Games are serious, more serious than life, as 
seen in the paradoxical fact that in a game lives can be at stake. 

Games, therefore, are no more based on the pleasure princi¬ 
ple than the reality principle. They suppose the enchantment 
of the rule, and the sphere that the rule describes. And the lat- 


134 SEDUCTION 


ter is not a sphere of illusion or diversion, but involves another 
logic, an artificial, initiatory logic wherein the natural deter¬ 
minants of life and death have been abolished, this constitutes 
the specificity of games and their stakes. It makes no sense to 
reduce them to an economic logic that would speak of cons¬ 
cious investment, or to a logic of desire that would speak of 
unconscious motives. Conscious or unconscious - this dou¬ 
ble determination may be valid for the sphere of meaning and 
law, but not for rules and games. 

★ ★ ★ 

t 

The Law describes a potentially universal system of mean¬ 
ing and value. It aims at objective recognition. On the basis of 
its underlying transcendence, the Law constitutes itself into an 
instance for the totalization of the real, with all the revolutions 
and transgressions clearing the way to the law’s universaliza¬ 
tion. By contrast, the Rule is immanent to a limited and res¬ 
tricted system, which it describes without transcending, and 
within which it is immutable. The rule does not aspire to univer¬ 
sality and, strictly speaking, it lacks all exteriority since it does 
not institute an internal scission. It is the Law’s transcendence 
that establishes the irreversibility of meaning and value. And 
it is the rule’s immanence, its arbitrary, circumscriptive charac¬ 
ter, that leads, in its own sphere, to the reversibility of meaning 
and the reversion of the Law. 

The inscription of rules in a sphere without a beyond (it’s 
no longer a universe, since it no longer aspires to universality) 
is as difficult to understand as the idea of a finite universe. A 
boundary without something beyond it is unimaginable. For 
us the finite is always set against the infinite; but the sphere 
of games is neither finite nor infinite - transfinite perhaps. It 
has its own finite contours, with which it resists the infinity 
of analytic space. To reinvent a rule is to resist the linear infini¬ 
tude of analytic space in order to recover a reversible space. 
For a rule has its own revolution, in the literal sense of the word: 
the convection towards a central point and the cycle’s rever¬ 
sion (this is how rituals function within a cyclical world), in¬ 
dependent of every logic of cause and effect, origin and end. 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 135 


This marks the end of the centrifugal dimension: the sud¬ 
den, intensive gravitation of space and abolition of time, which 
implodes in a flash to become so dense that it escapes the tradi¬ 
tional laws of physics - its entire course spiraling inwards 
towards the center where the density is greatest. This is the 
game’s fascination, the crystalline passion that erases memory 
traces and forfeits meaning. All passion comes close, in its form, 
to the latter, but the passion for gaming is the purest. 

The best analogy would be with primitive cultures, which 
have been described as closed in on themselves, incapable of 
conceiving of the rest of the world. But in our society the rest 
of the world exists only for us. Their closure, far from being 
restrictive, derives from a different logic which, because we are 
trapped within the imaginary of the universal, can no longer 
conceive of except pejoratively, as limited. 

The symbolic sphere of these cultures knows no remains. 
In games too, unlike the real, there is nothing left over. Because 
they have neither history, memory nor internal accumulation 
(the stakes are constantly being consumed and reversed, it be¬ 
ing an unspoken rule that, while the game is in progress, one 
cannot withdraw anything in the form of a gain or “surplus 
value”), they leave no residue within. Nor is there anything that 
remains outside the game. The “remainder” supposes an un¬ 
solved equation, an unrealized destiny, something subtracted 
or repressed. But a game’s equation is always perfectly 
balanced , and its destiny always fulfilled, without leaving any 
traces (something that distinguishes it from the unconscious). 

The theory of the unconscious supposes that certain affects, 
scenes or signifiers can no longer be put into play, that they 
are foreclosed, outside-the-game. The game, on the other hand, 
is based on the hypothesis that everything can be put into play. 
Otherwise it would have to be admitted that one has always 
already lost, that one is playing in order to always lose. In the 
game, however, no objects are wasted. There is nothing irredu¬ 
cible to the game which precedes the game - and in particular, 
no previous debts. If within games, something is exorcised, it 
is not some debt contracted vis-a-vis the law. It is the Law it¬ 
self that is exorcised as an unforgivable crime, as discrimina¬ 
tory, an irreconcilable transcendence within the real. And its 


136 SEDUCTION 


transgression only adds a new crime to that of the law - and 
new debts and griefs. 

The Law establishes equality as a principle: in principle every¬ 
one is equal before the Law. By contrast, there is no equality 
before the rule; for the latter has no jurisdiction over princi¬ 
ples. Moreover, in order for everyone to be equal they must 
be separated. The players, however, are not separate or individu¬ 
alized: they are instituted in a dual and agonistic relation. They 
are not even solidary - solidarity supposing a formal concep¬ 
tion of the social, the moral ideal of a group in competition. 
The players are tied to each other; their parity entails an obli¬ 
gation that does not require solidarity, at least not as something 
that needs to be conceptualized or interiorized. 

The rule has no need of a formal structure or superstructure 
- whether moral or psychological - to function. Precisely be¬ 
cause rules are arbitrary and ungrounded, because they have 
no referents, they do not require a consensus, nor any collec¬ 
tive will or truth. They exist, that’s all. And they exist only when 
shared, while the Law floats above scattered individuals. 

Their logic is clearly illustrated by what Gobiot claims, in 
La Barriere et le Niveau, is the cultural rule of castes (and of 
the bourgeois class as well): 

1. Total parity amongst the players within the space 
created by the Rule: this is the “level.” 

2. Beyond the Rule, the foreclosing of the rest of the 
world: this is the “barrier.” 

Within its own domain, extraterritoriality, in the obligations 
and privileges, absolute reciprocity: games restore this logic in 
its pure state. The agonistic relation between the players can 
never jeopardize their reciprocal, privileged status. The game 
might come to naught and its stakes lost - still the reciprocal 
enchantment, and the arbitrariness of the Rule at its source, must 
be preserved. 

This is why duel relations can exclude all effort, merit or per¬ 
sonal qualities (above all, in the pure form of games of chance). 
Personal traits are admitted only as a kind of favour or entice¬ 
ment, and have no psychological equivalents. This is how games 
go - as demanded by the divine transparency of the Rule. 

In a finite space, one is delivered from the universal - with 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 137 


an immediate, duel parity, one is delivered from equality - with 
obligations one is delivered from freedom - in the arbitrari¬ 
ness of the Rule and its ceremonial, one is delivered from the 
law. Thus the enchantment of games. 

★ ★ ★ 

In a sense, we are more equal within ceremonials than be¬ 
fore the Law (perhaps this accounts for the insistence on po¬ 
liteness, on ceremonial conformity, particularly amongst the less 
cultivated classes; it being easier to share conventional signs 
than signs laden with meaning or signs of “intelligence”). We 
also have more freedom in games than anywhere else, for we 
do not have to internalize the rules; we owe the rules only a 
token fidelity, and do not feel we have to transgress them, as 
is the case with the law. With the rule we are free of the Law 
- and of all the constraints of choice, freedom, responsibility 
and meaning! The terrorism of meaning can only be dissipat¬ 
ed by arbitrary signs. 

However, make no mistake about it: conventional or ritual 
signs are binding. One is not free to signify in isolation while 
still maintaining a coherent relation with reality or truth. The 
freedom demanded by modern signs, like modern individuals, 
to articulate themselves according to their affects or desire (for 
meaning) does not exist for conventional signs. The latter can¬ 
not set off aimlessly, with their own referent or scrap of mean¬ 
ing as ballast. Each sign is tied to others, not within the abstract 
structure of language, but within the senseless unfolding of a 
ceremonial; they echo each other and reduplicate themselves 
in other, equally arbitrary signs. 

The ritual sign is not a representative sign. It is not, there¬ 
fore, something worth understanding. Instead, it delivers us from 
meaning. This is why we are so committed to such signs. The 
gaming debt is a debt of honour; everything concerning the 
game is sacred because conventional. 

★ ★ ★ 

In A Lover's Discourse Roland Barthes justifies his choice of 


138 SEDUCTION 


an alphabetical order in the following terms: “to discourage the 
temptation of meaning, it was necessary to choose an absolutely 
insignificant order,” that is to say, neither an intended order, 
nor one of pure chance, but a perfectly conventional order. For 
“we must not,” he writes, citing a mathematician, “underesti¬ 
mate the power of chance to engender monsters,” that is, logi¬ 
cal sequences - meaning. 

In other words, total liberty, or total indeterminacy are not 
opposed to meaning. One can produce meaning simply by play¬ 
ing with chance or disorder. New diagonals of meaning, new 
sequences can be engendered from the untamed flood tides 
of desire - as in certain modern philosophies, the molecular 
or intensive philosophies, which claim to undermine meaning 
by diffraction, hook-ups and the Brownian movements of desire. 
As with chance, we must not underestimate the power of desire 
to engender (logical) monsters. 

One does not escape meaning by dissociation, disconnec¬ 
tion or deterritorialization. One escapes meaning by replacing 
it with a more radical simulacrum, a still more conventional 
order - like the alphabetical order for Barthes, or the rules of 
a game, or the innumerable rituals of everyday life which frus¬ 
trate both the (political, historical or social) order of meaning 
and the disorder (chance) which one would impose on them. 

Indeterminacy, dissociation or proliferation in the form of 
a star or rhizome only generalize meaning’s sphere; of influence 
, to the entire sphere of non-sense. That is, they merely general¬ 
ize meaning’s pure form, an abstract finality with neither a de¬ 
terminate end nor contents. Only rituals abolish meaning. 

★ * * 

This is why there are no “rituals of transgression.” The very 
expression makes no sense, especially when applied to the fes¬ 
tival. The latter has proved very problematic for our revolu¬ 
tionaries: is the festival a transgression or regeneration of the 
Law? An absurd question, for rituals, including the ritual litur¬ 
gy of the festival, belong to neither the domain of the Law, nor 
its transgression, but to that of the Rule. 

The same applies to magic. We are constantly Interpreting 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 139 


what falls under the rule in the terms of the law Thus, magic 
is seen as an attempt to outwit the laws of production and hard 
work. Primitives have the same “utilitarian” ends as us, but in 
order to realize them, they would rather avoid rational exer¬ 
tion. Magic, however, is something very different: it is a ritual 
for the maintenance of the world as a play of analogical rela¬ 
tions, a cyclical progression where everything is linked together 
by their signs. An immense game, rule governs magic, and the 
basic problem is to ensure, by means of ritual, that everything 
continues to play thus, by analogical contiguity and creeping 
seduction. It has nothing to do with linear relations of cause 
and effect. The latter - our way of understanding the world 
- is objective but unsettled. For it has broken the rule. 

Magic does not seek to fool the law. It doesn’t cheat - and 
to judge it as such is absurd. One might just as well dispute 
the arbitrariness of a game’s rules in terms of the “objective” 
givens of nature. 

The same simplistic and objectivistic misunderstanding oc¬ 
curs with gambling. Here the objective would be economic: 
to become rich without exerting oneself. The same attempt to 
skip steps as in magic. The same transgression of the principle 
of equivalence and hard work which rules the “real” world. 
The claim, then, is that gambling’s truth is to be found in the 
tricks it plays on value. 

But one is forgetting here the game’s power of seduction. Not 
just the power one experiences when momentarily carried away, 
but the power to transmute values that comes with the rule. 
In gambling money is seduced , deflected from its truth. Hav¬ 
ing been cut off from the law of equivalences (it “burns”) and 
the law of representation, money is no longer a sign or represen¬ 
tation once transformed into a stake. And a stake is not some¬ 
thing one invests. As an investment money takes the form of 
capital, but as a stake it appears in the form of a challenge. Plac¬ 
ing a bet has as little to do with placing an investment, as libidi- 
nal investment with the stakes of seduction. 

Investments and counter-investments - they belong to the 
psychic economy of drives and sex. Games, stakes and 
challenges are the figures of passion and seduction. More gener¬ 
ally, all the stuff of money, language, sex and affect undergo 




140 SEDUCTION 


a complete change of meaning depending on whether they are 
mobilized as an investment or transposed into a stake. The two 
moments are irreducible. 

★ ★ ★ 

If games had a finality, the only true player would be the 
cheater. Now, if a certain amount of prestige can be acquired 
by transgressing the law, there is no prestige in cheating or trans¬ 
gressing a rule. In truth, the cheater cannot transgress the rules 
since the game, not being a system of interdictions, does not 
have lines one can cross. One does not “trangress” a rule, one 
fails to observe it. And non-observance does not lead to a state 
of transgression; it brings one back under the jurisdiction of 
the law. 

This is the case with the cheater, who denies or, even better, 
profanes the game’s ceremonial conventions for economic rea¬ 
sons (or psychological reasons, if he cheats simply for the pleas¬ 
ure of winning), and thereby restores the laws of the real world. 
By introducing factors of an individual nature, he destroys the 
game’s “dud” enchantment. If cheating was once punished by 
death and is still condemned strongly, it is because, as a crime, 
it resembles incest: cultural rules being broken to the sole profit 
of the “laws of nature.” 

For the cheater, there is no longer anything at stake. He con¬ 
fuses the stakes with surplus-value. But the stakes are what ena¬ 
bles one to play, and to turn them into the game’s purpose is 
to abuse one’s position of trust. In a similar manner, the rules 
establish the very possibility of playing, the space within which 
the sides confront each other. To treat the rules as ends (or as 
laws or truths) is to destroy both the game and its stakes. The 
rules have no autonomy, that quality which, according to Marx, 
characterizes commodities, both individually and in general, 
and is the sacrosanct value of the economic domain. The cheater 
too is autonomous-, he establishes a law, his own law, against 
the arbitrary rituals of the rule - this is what disqualifies him. 
And he is free - this explains his downfall. Moreover, he is rather 
dreary, because he no longer exposes himself to the seduction 
of games, because he refuses the vertigo of seduction. By way 



THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 141 


of hypothesis, one might postulate that personal advantage is 
only an alibi: in reality he cheats in order to escape seduction ; 
he cheats because he is afraid of being seduced. 

★ ★ ★ 

The challenge of a game is very different, and games are al¬ 
ways a challenge - and not just when played around a table. 
Consider the American who had the following classified ad¬ 
vertisement printed in the paper: “Send me a dollar!” And then 
received tens of thousands of dollars. He did not promise any¬ 
thing - he was not, therefore, swindling anyone. Nor did he 
say: “I need a dollar” - nobody would have ever given him 
a dollar under such circumstances. Somewhere he had let float 
the off-chance of a miraculous exchange. Something more than 
an equivalence. A bluff. He was offering the public a challenge... 

What sort of sublime transaction were they negotiating when, 
instead of buying a dollar’s worth of ice cream, they sent in 
their money? They never really believed they would receive 
ten thousand dollars in return. In truth, they took up the 
challenge in their own way, and it was as valid as any other, 
for they were being offered a wishbone where one wins on 
both counts: 

One never knows, it might work (ten thousand dol¬ 
lars in the mail), in which case, one has received 
a sign of the Gods’ favour (which Gods? those who 
had printed the ad). 

If it doesn’t work, it is because the obscure instance 
that gave me the sign did not take up my challenge. 

So much the better. Psychologically I have beat¬ 
en the Gods. 

A double challenge: the con man challenges the sucker and 
the latter challenges fate. If he is overwhelmed by fate, he is 
in the clear. One can always count on culpability to look for 
ways of being exorcised, but it really isn’t a question of guilt. 
To send a dollar in response to the absurd challenge of the ad¬ 
vertisement, is the sacrificial response par excellence. It can be 


142 SEDUCTION 


summed up as: “There must be something behind this. I will 
summon the Gods to respond or else to disappear” - and reduc¬ 
ing the Gods to nothing is always a source of pleasure. 

* * ★ 

Stakes and challenges, summoning and bluffing - there is no 
question of belief in all this. Moreover, one never “believes” 
in anything. It is never a question of believing or not believ¬ 
ing, no more than for Santa Claus. Belief is an absurd concept, 
of the same type as motivation, need, instinct, i.e.;, drive, desire, 
and God knows what else - facile tautologies that hide from 
us the fact that our actions are never grounded psychological¬ 
ly in belief, but in stakes and challenges. It is never a matter 
of carefully reasoned speculation on existence (on the existence 
of God, or of someone with a dollar), but of continual provo¬ 
cation, of a game. One does not believe in God, just as one 
does not “believe” in chance - except in the humdrum dis¬ 
courses of religion or psychology. One challenges them, they 
challenge you, one plays with them, and they play with you: 
for this one does not have to believe in them. 

Thus faith in the religious sphere is similar to seduction in 
the game of love. Belief is turned to the existence of God - and 
existence has only an impoverished, residual status, being what 
is left when all else has been removed - while faith is a challenge 
to God’s existence , a challenge to God to exist, and in return, 
to die. One seduces God with faith, and He cannot but respond, 
for seduction, like the challenge, is a reversible form. And He 
responds a hundredfold by His grace to the challenge of faith. 
As with all ritual exchanges, the whole forms a system of obli¬ 
gations, with God being obliged ;tnd even compelled to respond 
- even as He is never compelled to exist. Belief is satsified with 
asking Him to exist and underwrite the world’s existence - it 
is the disenchanted, contractual form. But faith turns God into 
a stake: God challenges man to exist (and he can respond to 
this challenge with his death), and man challenges God to 
respond to his sacrifice, that is, to disappear in return. 

One always aspires to something more than mere existence, 
and something more than an equivalent value - and this some- 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 143 


thing more, the challenge’s immoderation compared to the con¬ 
tract, its intemperance compared to the equivalence of cause 
and effect, is clearly the result of seduction - that of games and 
magic. If we have experienced this in amorous seduction, why 
not in our relations with the world? Symbolic efficacy is not 
an empty concept. It reflects the existence of another form of 
the circulation of goods and signs, a form far more effective 
and powerful than economic circulation. What is fascinating 
about a miraculous win at the gaming tables is not the money: 
it is the resumption of ties with these other, symbolic circuits 
of unmediated and immoderate bidding, which concern the 
seduction of the order of things. 

In the last analysis, there is nothing to prevent things from 
being seduced like beings - one simply has to find the game’s 
rules. 

The entire problem of chance appears here. Magic, as a wager, 
is similar to our games of chance. What is at stake is the parti¬ 
cle of value thrown in the face of chance considered as a tran¬ 
scendent instance, not in order to win its favours, but to dismiss 
its transcendence, its abstraction, and turn it into a partner, an 
adversary. The stake is a summons, the game a duel: chance 
is summoned to respond, obliged by the player’s wager to 
declare itself either favourable or hostile. Chance is never neu¬ 
tral, the game tranforms it into a player and agonistic figure. 

Which is another way of saying that the basic assumption 
behind the game is that chance does not exist. 

Chance in its modern, rational sense, chance as an aleatory 
mechanism, pure probability subjected to the laws of proba¬ 
bility (and not to the rules of a game) - a sort of Great Neutral 
Aleatorium (G.N.A.), the epitome of a fluctuating universe domi¬ 
nated by statistical abstractions, a secularized, disenchanted and 
unbound divinity. This kind of chance does not exist in games; 
they exist to ward it off. Games of chance deny that the world 
is arranged contingently; on the contrary they seek to override 
any such neutral order and recreate a ritual order of obligations 
which undermines the free world of equivalences. In this man¬ 
ner games are radically opposed to the economy and Law. They 
question the reality of chance as an objective law and replace 
it with an inter-connected, propitious, duel, agonistic and non- 



144 SEDUCTION 


contingent universe - a charmed universe (charmed, in the 
strong sense of the term), a universe of seduction. 

Thus the superstitious manipulations surrounding games, 
which many (Caillois) view only in terms of debasement. The 
resort to magical practices, from playing one’s birth date to look¬ 
ing for recurrent series (the eleven came up eleven times run¬ 
ning in Monte Carlo), from the most subtle winning formulas 
to the rabbit’s foot in one’s coat pocket, they all feed on the 
idea that chance does not exist, that the world is built of net¬ 
works of symbolic relations - not contingent connections, but 
webs of obligation, webs of seduction. One has only to play 
one’s hand right... 

The bettor defends himself at all costs from the' idea of a neu¬ 
tral universe, of which objective chance is a part. The bettor 
claims that anything can be seduced - numbers, letters, or the 
laws that govern their distribution. He would seduce the Law 
itself. The least sign, the least gesture has a meaning, which 
is not to say that it is part of some rational progression, but 
that every sign is vulnerable to, and can be seduced by other 
signs. The world is held together by unbreakable chains, but 
they are not those of the Law. 

Here lies the “immorality” of games, often attributed to the 
fact that they encourage one to want to win too much too quick¬ 
ly. But this is to give them too much credit. Games are more 
immoral than that. They are immoral because they substitute 
an order of seduction for an order of production. 

★ ★ ★ 

If a game is a venture for the seduction of chance that attaches 
itself to combinations of signs (but not those of cause and ef¬ 
fect, nor those of contingent series) and if games tend to 
eliminate the objective neutrality of chance and its statistical 
“liberty” by harnessing them to the form of the duel, the 
challenge, and orderly bidding - then it is absurd to imagine, 
as does Gilles Deleuze in Logique du Sens , an “ideal game” that 
would consist of a fury of contingencies and, thus, of a radi¬ 
cally increased indeterminacy which, in turn, would give rise 
to the simultaneous play of every series and, therefore, to the 



THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 145 


radical expression of becoming and desire 

The probability that two sequences will never - or hardly 
ever - cross eliminates the game’s very possibility (if sequences 
never cross one cannot even speak of chance). But so does the 
likelihood that an indefinite number of sequences will cross 
each other at any given moment. For games are only conceived 
from the junction of a few sequences within a time-space frame 
limited by rules. Indeed, the latter is a condition for the produc¬ 
tion of chance; the rules do not restrict the freedom of a “to¬ 
tal” chance, but constitute the very mode of the game’s 
appearance. 

It is not the case that the “more” chance there is, the more 
intense the game. This is to conceptualize both games and 
chance in terms of a sort of “freedom” of combination, an im¬ 
manent drifting, a constant dissociation of orders and sequences, 
an unbridled improvisation of desire - a kind of daimdn who 
blows in all directions, breathing a little uncertainty, an addi¬ 
tional incidence into the world’s orderly economy. 

Now all this is absurd. Becoming is not a matter of more or 
less. There is no dose or overdose. Either the world is engaged 
in a cycle of becoming, and is so engaged at all times, or it is 
not. At any rate, it makes no sense to “take the side” of becom¬ 
ing, assuming it exists - no more than that of chance, or desire. 
For one has no choice: “To take the side of the primary process 
is still a consequence of secondary processes” (Lyotard). 

The very idea that games can be intensified by the accelera¬ 
tion of chance (as though one were speaking of the acidic con¬ 
tent of a chemical solution), the idea that becoming can thereby 
be extended exponentially, turns chance into an energizing func¬ 
tion, and stems directly from a confusion with the notion of 
desire. But this is not chance. Perhaps one should even admit, 
as the bettor secretly postulates, that chance does not exist. 
Quite a number of cultures have neither the word nor the con¬ 
cept, for they do not view anything in terms of contingency, 
nor even in terms of probability. Only our culture has invent¬ 
ed the possibility of a statistical response, an inorganic, objec¬ 
tive and fluctuating response, the dead response of the 
phenomena’s objective indeterminacy and instability. When one 
thinks about it, the assumption of a contingent universe, 



t 


146 SEDUCTION 

stripped of all obligations and purged of every symbolic or for¬ 
mal rule, the idea that the world of things is subjected to a 
molecular and objective disorder - the same disorder that is 
idealized and glorified in the molecular vision of desire - this 
assumption is insane. Scarcely less demented than the assump¬ 
tion of an objective order, of an unbroken chain of cause and 
effect, which belongs to the glory days of classical reason, and 
from which, furthermore, the assumption of disorder follows 
in accord with the logic of residues. 

The idea of chance first emerged as the residue of a logical 
order of determination. But even hypostasized as a revolution¬ 
ary variable, it still remains the mirror image of the principle 
of causality. Its generalization, its unconditional “liberation,” 
as in Deleuze’s “ideal game,” is part of the political and mysti¬ 
cal economy of residues at work everywhere today, with its 
structural inversion of weak into strong terms. Chance, once 
perceived as obscene and insignificant, is to be revived in its 
insignificance and so become the motto of a nomadic econo¬ 
my of desire. 


★ ★ ★ 

Games are not to be confused with “becoming,” they are not 
nomadic, and do not belong to the realm of desire. They are 
characterized, even when games of chance, by their capacity 
to reproduce a given arbitrary constellation in the same terms 
an indefinite number of times. Their true form is cyclical or 
recurrent. And as such they, and they alone, put a definite stop 
to causality and its principle - not by the massive introduction 
of random series (which results only in the dispersal of causal¬ 
ity, its reduction to scattered fragments, and not its overcom¬ 
ing) - but by the potential return (the eternal return if one will) 
to an orderly, conventional situation. 

Neither the temporality of desire and its “freedom,” nor that 
of some natural development (as with the play of children, or 
the play of the world described by Heraclitus), but that of the 
eternal return of a ritual form - and willed as such. Thus each 
of the game’s sequences delivers us from the linearity of life 
and death. 



THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 147 


There are two kinds of eternal return. The statistical kind - 
neutral, objective and insipid - where, given that the combi¬ 
nations, however numerous, in a finite system cannot be infinite, 
probability demands that the same arrangement eventually 
recur, according to an immense cycle. A thin metaphysics: it 
is a natural eternal return, in accord with a natural, statistical 
causality. The other vision is tragic and ritual: it is the willed 
recurrence, as in games, of an arbitrary and non-causal config¬ 
uration of signs, where each sign seeks out the next relentless¬ 
ly, as in the course of a ceremonial. It is the eternal return 
demanded by rules - as in a mandatory succession of throws 
and wagers. And it makes no difference whether they be the 
rules of the game of the universe itself: there is no metaphys¬ 
ics looming on the horizon of the game’s indefinitely reversi¬ 
ble cycle - and certainly not the metaphysics of desire, which 
is still dependent on the world’s natural order, or natural 
disorder. 

Desire may well be the Law of the universe, but the eternal 
return is its rule . Luckily for us - otherwise, where would be 
the pleasure in playing? 

★ ★ ★ 

The consummate vertigo induced by a game*, when the throw 
of the dice ends up “eliminating chance,” when, for example, 
the same number appears against all odds several times in a row. 
A game’s ultimate fantasy, the ecstasy of checking chance - 
when, in the grip of a challenge, the same throw is repeated, 
the prisoner of a recurring series, and as a result the law and 
chance are abolished. One plays in anticipation of this sym¬ 
bolic transcursion, that is to say, in anticipation of an event that 
will put an end to a random process without, however, fall¬ 
ing prey to an objective law . By itself each throw produces 
only a moderate giddiness, but when fate raises the bid - a sign 
that it is truly caught up in the game - when fate itself seems 
to throw a challenge to the natural order of things and enters 
into a frenzy or ritual vertigo, then the passions are unleashed 
and the spirits seized by a truly deadly fascination. 

There is nothing imaginary about this, but an imperious 



148 SEDUCTION 


necessity to put a stop to the natural play of differences as well 
as the historical development of the law. There is no greater 
moment. The only way to respond to the natural advances of 
desire is in terms of the ritual one-upmanship of seduction and 
games; and the only way to respond to the contractual proposals 
of the law is in terms of the one- upmanship and formal vertigo 
of rules. A crystalline passion without equal. 

★ ★ ★ 

Games do not belong to the realm of fantasy, and their recur¬ 
rence is not the repetition of a phantasy. The latter proceeds 
from an-“other” scene, and is a figure of death. The game’s recur¬ 
rence proceeds from a rule, and is a figure of seduction and 
pleasure. Every repetitive figure of meaning, whether affect or 
representation, is a figure of death. Pleasure is released only 
by a meaningless recurrence, one that proceeds from neither 
a conscious order nor an unconscious disorder, but results from 
the reversion and reiteration of a pure form that challenges and 
outdoes the law of contents and their accumulation. 

The game’s recurrence proceeds directly from fate, and ex¬ 
ists as fate. Not as a death drive or tendential lowering of the 
rate of difference, resulting in the entropic twilights of systems 
of meaning, but as a form of ritual incantation - a form of 
ceremonial where the signs, because they are so violently at¬ 
tracted to each other, no longer leave any room for meaning, 
and can only duplicate themselves. Here too one finds the ver¬ 
tigo of seduction, the vertigo that comes of being absorbed in 
a recurrent fate. All societies other than our own are familiar 
with this theater of ritual, which is also a theater of cruelty. 
Games rediscover something of this cruelty. Compared with 
games, everything real is sentimental. The truth, and the Law 
itself are sentimental relative to the pure forms of repetition. 

Just as it is not liberty that is opposed to the law, but the rule, 
similarly it is not indeterminacy that is opposed, to causality, 
but obligation. The latter is neither a linear chain, nor an un¬ 
chaining (which is merely the romanticism of a deranged causal¬ 
ity); it forms a reversible chain that, moving from sign to sign, 
inexorably completes its cycle, turning its origin into an ellipse 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 149 


and economizing on its end, like the shells and bracelets in Poly¬ 
nesian exchange relationships. The cycle of obligations is not 
a code. We have confused obligation in the strong sense, in its 
timeless, ritual sense, with laws and codes, and their common¬ 
place constraints, which rule over us under the opposite sign, 
that of liberty. 

In Deleuze’s pure, nomadic chance, in his “ideal game,” there 
is only disjunction and dispersed causality. But only a concep¬ 
tual error allows one to dissociate the game from its rules in 
order to radicalize its utopian form. And the same intemper¬ 
ance, or the same facility, allows one to dissociate chance from 
what defines it - an objective calculus of series and probabili¬ 
ties - in order to turn it into the theme song for an ideal in¬ 
determinacy, an ideal desire composed of the endless 
occurrence of countless series. But why more series? Why not 
a pure Brownian movement? But then the latter, though it seems 
to have become the physical model for radical desire, has its 
laws, and is not a game. 

To generalize chance, in the form of an “ideal game,” without 
simultaneously generalizing the game’s rules, is akin to the fan¬ 
tasy of radicalizing desire by ridding it of every law and every 
lack. The objective idealism of the “ideal game,” and the sub¬ 
jective idealism of desire. 

★ ★ ★ 

A game forms a system with neither contradiction nor inter¬ 
nal negativity. That is why one cannot laugh at it. And if it can¬ 
not be parodied, it is because its entire organization is parodic. 
The rule functions as the parodic simulacrum of the law. Neither 
an inversion nor subverion of the law, but its reversion in simu¬ 
lation. The pleasure of the game is twofold: the invalidation 
of time and space within the enchanted sphere of an indestruct¬ 
ible form of reciprocity - pure seduction - and the parodying 
of reality, the formal outbidding of the law’s constraints. 

Can one produce a finer parody of the ethics of value than 
by submitting oneself, with all the intransigence of virtue, to 
the outcomes of chance or the absurdity of a rule? Can there 
be a finer parody of the values of work, economy, production 


150 SEDUCTION 


and calculation than the challenge and the wager, or the fan¬ 
tastic non-equivalence between what is at stake and what might 
be won (or lost - both being equally immoral)? Or a finer parody 
of every idea of contract and exchange than this magical com¬ 
plicity, this “duel” obligation relative to the rules, this agonis¬ 
tic attempt to seduce one’s opponent, and to seduce chance 
itself? What better denial of the values of will, responsibility, 
equality and justice than this exaltation of (good and bad) luck, 
this exultation in playing with fate as an equal? Can there be 
a more beautiful parody of our ideologies of liberty than this 
passion for rules? 

Is there a better parody of “sociality” itself than that found 
in Borges’ fable, “The Lottery in Babylon,” with its inescapa¬ 
ble and fateful logic and its simulation of the social by the game? 

★ ★ ★ 

“I come from a dizzy land where the lottery is the basis of 
reality.” Thus begins a story about a society where the lottery 
has swallowed up all the other institutions. In the beginning 
it was only a game of plebeian character, and the most one could 
do was win. But “the lotteries” were boring, since “they were 
not directed at all of man’s faculties, but only at hope.” One 
then “tried a reform: the interpolation of a few unfavourable 
tickets in the list of favourable numbers” - with the risk of pay¬ 
ing a considerable fine. This was a radical modification: it elimi¬ 
nated the illusion that the game had an economic purpose. 
Henceforth one entered a pure game, and the dizziness that 
seized hold of Babylonian society knew no limits. Anything 
could happen by drawing lots, the lottery became “secret, free 
and general,” “every free man automatically participated in the 
sacred drawings which took place every sixty nights and which 
determined his destiny until the next drawing.” A lucky draw 
could make him a rich man or a magi, or give him the women 
he desired; an unlucky draw could bring him mutilation or 
death. 

In short, the interpolation of chance in all the interstices of 
the social order and “in the order of the world.” All the lot¬ 
tery’s errors were good, since they only intensified its logic. 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 151 


Impostures, ruses, and manipulation could be perfectly integrat¬ 
ed into the aleatory system: who could say if they were “real,” 
that is, whether they were the result of some natural or ration¬ 
al causality, or resulted from chance as determined by the lot¬ 
tery? In principle no one. Predestination encompassed 
everything, the lottery’s effects were universal. The Lottery and 
the Company could cease to exist, their silent functioning would 
be exercised over a field of total simulation. All “reality” had 
entered the secret decisions of the Company, and there was, 
in all likelihood, no longer any difference between the real real¬ 
ity and the contingent reality. 

Indeed it is possible that the Company never existed, and 
the world’s order would remain the same. But the assumption 
of its existence changes everything. The assumption alone is 
enough to change reality, as it is, as it cannot be otherwise, into 
one immense simulacrum. Reality is nothing other than its own 
simulation. 

In our “realist” societies, the Company has ceased to exist. 
Our societies are oblivious to and built on the ruins of this pos¬ 
sible total simulation. We are no longer conscious of the spiral 
of simulation that preceded reality. In truth, our unconscious 
is found here: in our incomprehension before the vertiginous 
indetermination and simulation that rules the sacred disorder 
of our lives. Not in the repression of a few affects or represen¬ 
tations - our insipid conception of the unconscious - but in 
our blindness before the Big Game, before the fact that our 
“real” fate with all its “real” events has already passed through, 
not some anterior life (though by itself this hypothesis is su¬ 
perior to our metaphysics of objective causes), but a cycle of 
indetermination, a game cycle that is simultaneously arbitrary 
and fixed. Borges’ Lottery is the symbolic incarnation of this 
game, which has given our fate that hallucinatory quality we 
take for its truth. The logic escapes us, though our conscious¬ 
ness of the real is based on our unconsciousness of simulation. 

Remember the Babylonian Lottery. Whether or not it exists, 
the veil of indetermination it throws over our life is absolute. 
Its arbitrary decrees rule the least details of our existence. We 
dare not speak of a hidden infrastructure, for the latter will even¬ 
tually be called upon to appear as truth - while here it is a mat- 




152 SEDUCTION 


ter of fate, that is, of a game that has always already been worked 
out, yet remains forever indecipherable. 

Borges’ originality is to have extended this game to the en¬ 
tire social structure. Where we see games as superstructure, as 
relatively weightless compared to the good, solid infrastructure 
of social relations, he has turned the entire edifice upside down 
and made indetermination into the determinant instance. It is 
no longer economic reason, that of labour and history, nor the 
“scientific” determinism of exchanges which determines the 
social structure and fate of individuals, but a total indeterminism, 
that of the Game and of Chance. Predestination coincides here 
with a total mobility, and an arbitrary system with the most rad¬ 
ical democracy (the instantaneous exchange of all positions - 
something to satisfy the present-day’s thirst for polyvalence). 

This reversal is extremely ironic relative to every contract, 
every rational foundation of the social. Pacts concerning rules, 
and concerning their arbitrariness (the Lottery) eliminate the 
social as we understand it, just as rituals put an end to the law. 
It has never been otherwise with secret societies; in their ef¬ 
florescence one should see a resistance to the social. 

The nostalgia for a pactual, ritual, and contingent sociality, 
the yearning to be free of the contract and social relation, the 
longing for a crueler if more fascinating destiny for exchange, 
is deeper than the rational imperatives of the social with which 
we have been lulled. Borges’ tale is perhaps not a fiction, but 
a description that comes close to our former dreams, that is 
to say, to our future as well. 

In Byzantium, social life, the political order, its hierarchies 
and expenditures were regulated by horse races. Today one still 
bets on the horses, but the mirror of democracy produces only 
a faint reflection. The enormous amount of money exchanged 
in betting is nothing compared to the extravagance of the Byzan¬ 
tines, where all public life was tied to equestrian competitions. 
Still it is symptomatic of the game’s importance in many social 
activities and in the rapid circulation of goods and social posi¬ 
tions. In Brazil there is the Jogo de Bicho: betting, lotteries and 
other games have seized hold of entire sectors of the popula¬ 
tion who risk their life’s savings and status. A distraction from 
underdevelopment one might claim, but even in its wretched 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 153 


modern version, it provides an echo of cultures where ludic 
and sumptuary practices generated the essential forms and struc¬ 
tures of exchange - a schema that goes very much against the 
grain of our own culture, most notably in its Marxist version. 
Underdeveloped? Only the privileged, those elevated by the 
social contract, or by their social status - itself only a 
simulacrum, and one without even the value of a destiny - can 
judge such aleatory practices as worthless when they are quite 
superior to their own. For it is as much a challenge to the so¬ 
cial as to chance, and indicative of a yearning for a more ad¬ 
venturous world, where one plays with value more recklessly. 


THE DUAL, THE POLAR AND THE DIGITAL 


A lottery is a simulacrum - there being nothing more artifi¬ 
cial than to regulate the course of events by the absurd decrees 
of chance. But let us not forget that this is what antiquity did 
with the arts of divination, using the entrails of chickens and 
the flight of birds; and isn’t it what the modern art of interpre¬ 
tation continues to do, though with fewer grounds? It is all a 
simulacrum. The difference is that in Borges’ Ficciones the 
game’s rules completely replace the law and the game decides 
one’s destiny, while in our society games are simply marginal 
and frivolous diversions. 

Compared to Borges’ fictional society, based on chance 
decrees and a type of predestination by the game, relative to 
such a cruel order where the risks are never-ending and the 
stakes absolute, we live in a society of minimal stakes and risks. 
If the terms were not contradictory, one could say that securi¬ 
ty has become our destiny. It might be the case, moreover, that 
this outcome will be fatal for our society - the mortality of over¬ 
protected species which, in their domestication, are dying of 
too much security. 

Now if the Babylonians succumbed to the lottery’s vertigo, 
it was because there was something in the lottery that com¬ 
pletely seduced them, that enabled them to challenge every¬ 
thing worth existing, including their own existence - and their 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 155 


own death. By contrast, for us the social is without seduction. 
What is less seductive than the very idea of the social? The 
degree zero of seduction. Even God never fell so low. 

Relative to the dangers of seduction that haunt the universe 
of games and rituals, our own sociality and the forms of com¬ 
munication and exchange it institutes, appear in direct propor¬ 
tion to their secularization under the sign of the Law, as 
extremely impoverished, banal and abstract. 

But this is still only an intermediary state, for the age of the 
Law has passed, and with it that of the socius and the social 
contract. Not only are we no longer living in an era of rules 
and rituals, we are no longer living in an era of laws and con¬ 
tracts. We live today according to Norms and Models, and we 
do not even have a term to designate that which is replacing 
sociality and the social. 

the RULE the LAW the NORM 

Ritual(ity) Social(ity) ???????? 

We are presently living with a minimum of real sociality and 
a maximum of simulation. Simulation neutralizes the poles that 
organize the perspectival space of the real and the Law, while 
draining off the energy potential that still drives the space of 
the Law and the social. In the era of models, one must speak 
of the deterrence of the antagonistic strategies that gave the Law 
and the social their stakes - including a stake in their transgres¬ 
sion. No more transgression, and no more transcendence. But 
for all that, we are no longer in the tragic immanence of rules 
and rituals, but in the cool immanence of norms and models. 
Deterrence, regulation, feed-back, sequences of tactical elements 
in a non-referential space... But above all, in this age of models, 
the digitally of the signal as a replacement for the polarity of 
the sign. 

DUALITY POLARITY DIGITALITY 

These three logics are exclusive of each other: 

- the dual relation dominates the game, the ritual and the en¬ 
tire sphere of the rule. 



156 SEDUCTION 


- the polar relation, or the dialectical or contradictory rela¬ 
tion, organizes the universe of the Law, the social, and meaning. 

- the digital relation (but it is no longer a “relation” - let us 
speak instead of the digital connection) allocates the space of 
Norms and Models. 

In the cross-play of these three logics, the concept of seduc¬ 
tion in its radical sense (as duel, ritualistic, agonistic, with the 
stakes maximized) must be replaced by seduction in its “soft” 
sense - the seduction of an “ambience,” or the playful erotici- 
zation of a universe without stakes. 


THE “LUDIC” AND COLD SEDUCTION 


For we are living off seduction 
but will die in fascination. 

The play of models with their ever-changing combinations, 
is characteristic of a ludic universe, where everything operates 
as possible simulation, where everything, in the absence of a 
God to acknowledge his creations, can act as counter-evidence. 
Subversive values have only to wait their turn, and violence and 
critique are themselves presented as models. We are living in 
a supple, curved universe, that no longer has any vanishing 
points. Formerly the reality principle was defined in terms of 
the coherence of objects and their use, functions and their in¬ 
stitution, things and their objective determination - today the 
pleasure principle is defined in terms of the conjunction of 
desires and models (of a demand and its anticipation by simu¬ 
lated responses). 

The “ludic” is formed of the “play” of the model with the 
demand. But given that the demand is prompted by the model, 
and the model’s precession is absolute, challenges are impossi¬ 
ble. Most of our exchanges are regulated by game strategies; 
but the latter, defined as a capacity to foresee all of one’s oppo¬ 
nent’s moves and check them in advance, renders all stakes im¬ 
possible. Game theory describes the ludic character of a world 


158 SEDUCTION 


where, paradoxically, nothing is at stake. 

The “Werbung,” the solicitation of advertisements and polls, 
all the models of the media and politics, no longer claim cre¬ 
dence, only credibility. They are no longer objects of libidinal 
investment; for they are made selectively available within a range 
of choices - with leisure itself now appearing, relative to work, 
as just another channel on the screen of time (and will there 
soon be a third or fourth channel?). American television, one 
might add, with its 83 channels is the living incarnation of the 
ludic: one can no longer do anything but play - change chan¬ 
nels, mix programs and create one’s own montage (the 
predominance of TV games is merely an echo, at the level of 
content, of this ludic employment of the medium). And like 
every combinatorial, it is a source of fascination. But one can 
no longer speak of a sphere of enchantment or seduction; in¬ 
stead, an era of fascination is beginning. 

Obviously, the ludic cannot be equated with having fun. With 
its propensity for making connections, the ludic is more akin 
to detective work. More generally, it connotes networks and 
their mode of functioning, the forms of their permeation and 
manipulation. The ludic encompasses all the different ways one 
can “play” with networks, not in order to establish alternatives, 
but to discover their state of optimal functioning. 

We have already witnessed the debasement of play to the level 
of function - in play therapy, play school, play-as-catharsis and 
play-as-creativity. Throughout the fields of education and child 
psychology, play has become a “vital function” dr necessary 
phase of development. Or else it has been grafted onto the pleas¬ 
ure principle to become a revolutionary alternative, a dialecti¬ 
cal overcoming of the reality principle in Marcuse, an ideology 
of play and the festival for others. But even as transgression, 
spontaneity, or aesthetic disinterestedness, play remains only 
a sublimated form of the old, directive pedagogy that gives it 
a meaning, assigns it an end, and thereby purges it of its power 
of seduction. Play as dreaming, sport, work, rest or as a transi¬ 
tional object - or as the physical hygiene necessary for psy¬ 
chological equilibrium or for a system’s regulation or evolution. 
The very opposite of that passion for illusion which once 
characterized it. 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 159 


We are still speaking, however, of functional attempts to sub¬ 
ject play to the law of value. What is more serious is the cyber¬ 
netic absorption of play into the general category of the ludic. 

★ ★ ★ 

The general evolution of games is revealing: from competi¬ 
tive games - team sports, old-fashioned card games, or even 
table football - to the generation of pinball machines (which 
already had screens but were not yet “televised,” a mixture of 
electronics and hand movements), now rendered obsolete by 
electronic tennis and other computerized games, their screens 
streaked with high-speed molecules. And the atomistic manipu¬ 
lation required by the latter is not to be distinguished from the 
practices of information control in the “labour process” or the 
future employment of computers in the domestic sphere, which 
were also preceded by television and other audiovisual aids. 
The ludic is everywhere, even in the “choice” of a brand of 
laundry detergent in the supermarket. Without too much ef¬ 
fort one sees similarities with the world of psychotropic drugs: 
for the latter too is ludic, being nothing but the manipulation 
of a sensorial keyboard or neuronic instrument panel. Electronic 
games are a soft drug - one plays them with the same somnam- 
bular absence and tactile euphoria. 

Even the genetic code appears as a command keyboard for 
the living, on which are played the infinitesimal combinations 
and variations that determine their “destiny” - a “tele”-onomic 
destiny that unfolds on the molecular screen of the code. Much 
can be said about the objectivity of the genetic code that serves 
as a “biological” prototype for the entire universe, this com¬ 
binatory, aleatory and ludic universe that now surrounds us. 
After all, what is “biology”? What is this truth it possesses? Or 
is it that it possesses only truth... destiny transformed into an 
operational instrument panel. Behind the screen of biological 
remote control, there is no longer any play - no stakes, illu¬ 
sions, or representations. It is simply a matter of modulating 
the code, playing with it as one plays with the tonalities and 
timbres of a stereophonic system. 

The latter is a good example of the ludic. When manipulat- 


160 SEDUCTION 


ing the stereo’s controls, one’s concerns are no longer musical 
but technological: the optimal modulation of the system’s range. 
With the magic of the console and instrument panel, the 
manipulation of the medium predominates. 

Consider a game of computer chess. Where is the intensity 
of the game of chess, or the pleasure proper to computers? The 
one involves play, the other the ludic. The same applies to a 
soccer match that has been televised. Don’t think that they are 
the same match: one is hot, the other cool - one is a game, 
with its emotional charge, its bravado and choreography, the 
other is tactile, modulated (play backs, close-ups, sweeps, slow 
motion shots, different angles of vision, etc.). The televised 
match is, above all else, a televised event, like the Holocaust 
or the war in Vietnam, and is barely distinguishable from the 
latter. Thus the introduction of colour television in the United 
States, which had been slow and difficult, only took off when 
one of the major networks decided to introduce colour to tel¬ 
evised journalism. It was the period of the war in Vietnam, and 
studies have shown that the “play” of colours, and the techni¬ 
cal sophistication borne by this innovation, rendered the im¬ 
ages of war more bearable to the viewing public. The “more” 
truth, the greater the ludic distantiation from the event. 

★ ★ ★ 

The Holocaust, the television special. 

The Jews are no longer forced to pass through the gas cham¬ 
bers and crematorium ovens, but through the sound track and 
picture strip, the cathodic screen and microprocessor. The 
amnesia, the oblivion, thereby finally attains an aesthetic dimen¬ 
sion - consummated in retrospective and retrogressive fashion, 
raised here to mass dimensions. Television as the event’s true 
“final solution.” 

The dimension of history that once remained in the shadows 
as guilt, no longer exists, since now “the whole world knows,” 
the whole world has been shaken - a sure sign that “it” will 
never happen again. In effect, what is exorcized at the cost of 
only a few tears will not happen again, because it is now recur¬ 
ring, and in the very form of its alleged denunciation, the very 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION l6l 


medium of its alleged exorcism - television. The same forget¬ 
fulness, the same liquidation, extermination, and even annihi¬ 
lation of memory and history - the same recessive irradiation, 
the same echoless absorption, the same black hole as Ausch¬ 
witz. And one would have us believe that television is going 
to release us from the burden of Auschwitz by raising collec¬ 
tive consciousness, when television perpetuates it in other ways, 
no longer under the auspices of a place of annihilation, but of 
a medium of dissuasion. 

The Holocaust is , first of all (and exclusively) a televised event 
(one must not forget McLuhan’s basic rule). That is, it is an at¬ 
tempt to reheat a tragic but cold historical event, the first great 
event of the cold systems, the-eooling systems, the systems of 
dissuasion and extermination which would then be deployed 
in other forms (including the Cold War, etc.) - and an event 
that concerns cold masses (the Jews no longer implicated, but 
in the end forced to manage their own death, the masses no 
longer rebellious - dissuaded by death, dissuaded unto death). 
A cold event warmed up by a cold medium for masses, them¬ 
selves cold, who are going to experience only a posthumous 
emotion, a tactile and dissuasive shudder that will enable them 
to let the catastrophe slip into oblivion with a sort of aesthetic 
good conscience. 

In order to reheat all this, the political and pedagogical or¬ 
chestration that followed the (televised) event in an attempt to give 
it meaning was not excessive. The panic before the program’s 
possible consequences on the minds of children; all those social 
workers mobilized to filter it, as if this artificial resurrection carried 
a danger of contagion! In fact, the danger was quite the oppo¬ 
site: that resulting from the social inertia of cold systems - cold 
producing cold. Thus the whole world had to be mobilized in 
order to reconstitute the social (warmth) of communication out 
of the cold monster of extermination. The program served to 
capture the artificial warmth of a dead event in order to reheat 
the dead body of the social. Hence the supplementary contri¬ 
butions of the other media attempting to extend the program’s 
effects by its feed-back: the concurrent polls seconding the pro¬ 
gram’s enormous, collective impact - when, needless to say, these 
polls only verified the televisual success of the medium itself. 


162 SEDUCTION 


★ ★ ★ 

One should speak of television’s cold light, and why it is in¬ 
offensive to the imagination (including the imagination of chil¬ 
dren). It is innocuous because it no longer conveys an imaginary, 
for the simple reason that it is no longer an image. Here it con¬ 
trasts with the cinema which (though increasingly contaminated 
by television) is still endowed with an intense imaginary - be¬ 
cause it is an image. This is not simply to speak of film as a 
mere screen or visual form, but as a myth, something that still 
resembles a double, a mirror, a fantasy, a dream, etc. None of 
this in the TV image. It doesn’t suggest anything, it mesmer¬ 
izes. .. It is only a screen or, better, it is a miniaturized terminal 
that immediately appears in your head (you are the screen and 
the television is watching you), transistorizes all; your neurons 
and passes for a magnetic tape - a tape, not an image. 

★ ★ ★ 

All this belongs to the ludic realm where one encounters a 
cold seduction - the “narcissistic” spell of electronic and in¬ 
formation systems, the cold attraction of the terminals and medi¬ 
ums that we have become, surrounded as we are by consoles, 
isolated and seduced by their manipulation. 

The possiblity of modulations within an undifferentiated 
universe and of the “play” of unstable sets of elements, is never 
without fascination. It is even highly possible that ludic and 
libinal flirt with each other somewhere in the direction of ran¬ 
dom systems, by virtue of a desire that no longer leads to in¬ 
fractions in the legal sense, but entails diffraction in all senses 
within a universe that no longer knows the legal sphere. This 
desire also belongs to the ludic realm with its topology of shift¬ 
ing systems, and is an added source of pleasure (or anguish) 
for each of the particles moving within the networks. We are 
all accorded this light, psychedelic giddiness which results from 
multiple or successive connections and disconnections. We are 
all invited to become miniaturized “game systems,” i.e., 
microsystems with the potential to regulate their own random 
functioning. ' 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 163 


This is the modern meaning of play, the “ludic” sense, con¬ 
noting the suppleness and polyvalence of combinations. Un¬ 
derstood in this sense, “play,” its very possibility, is at the basis 
of the metastability of systems. It has nothing to do with play 
as a dual or agonistic relation; it is the cold seduction that 
governs the spheres of information and communication. And 
it is in this cold seduction that the social and its representa¬ 
tions are now wearing themselves thin. 

We are all quite familiar with this immense process of simu¬ 
lation. Non-directive interviews, call-in shows, all-out partici¬ 
pation - the extortion of speech: “It concerns you, you are the 
majority, you are what’s happening.” And the probing of opin¬ 
ions, hearts, minds, and the unconscious to show how much 
“it” speaks. The news has been invaded by this phantom con¬ 
tent, this homeophathic transplant, this waking dream of com¬ 
munication. A circular construction where one presents the 
audience with what it wants, an integrated circuit of perpetual 
solicitation. The immense energies spent in maintaining this 
simulacrum at arm’s length, to avoid the brutal dis-simulation 
that would occur should the reality of a radical loss of mean¬ 
ing become too evident. 

Seduction/simulacrum: communication as the functioning 
of the social within a closed circuit, where signs duplicate an 
undiscoverable reality. The social contract has become a “simu¬ 
lation pact” sealed by the media and the news. And nobody, 
one might add, is completely taken in: the news is experienced 
as an ambience, a service, or hologram of the social. The mass¬ 
es respond to the simulation of meaning with a kind of reverse 
simulation; they respond to dissuasion with disaffection, and 
to illusions with an enigmatic belief. It all moves around, and 
can give the impression of an operative seduction. But such 
seduction has no more meaning than anything else, seduction 
here connotes only a kind of ludic adhesion to simulated pieces 
of information, a kind of tactile attraction maintained by the 
models. 


164 SEDUCTION 


“Tele-phathics” 

“Rogers here - I am receiving you five on five.” “Do you hear 
me? Yes, I hear you.” “We receive you, come in.” “Yes, we are 
speaking.” This is the litany of the radio bands, particularly the 
alternative or pirate stations. One plays at speaking and listen¬ 
ing; one plays at communication using the most sophisticated 
technology for the latter’s mise en scene. The phatic function 
of language, used to establish contact and sustain speech’s for¬ 
mal dimension: this function first isolated and described by 
Malinowski with reference to the Melanesians, then by Jakob- 
son in his grid of language’s functions, becomes hypertrophied 
in the tele-dimension of the communications networks. Con¬ 
tact for contact’s sake becomes the empty form with which lan¬ 
guage seduces itself when it no longer has anything to say. 

The latter concerns our own culture. What Malinowski 
described was something quite different: a symbolic altercation 
or duel of words. By these ritual phrases and palavers without 
content, the natives were still throwing a challenge and offer¬ 
ing a gift, as in a pure ceremonial. Language has no need for 
“contact”: it is we who need communication to have a specific 
“contact” function, precisely because it is eluding us. That is 
why Jakobson was able to isolate it in his analysis of language, 
while both the concept and the terms to express it are absent 
from other cultures. Jakobson’s grid and his axiomatics of com¬ 
munication are contemporaneous with a change in language’s 
fortune - it is beginning to no longer communicate anything. 
It has thus become urgent to analytically restore the function¬ 
al possibility of communication, and in particular the “phatic” 
function that, in logical terms, is a simple truism: if it speaks, 
then it speaks. But in effect it no longer speaks, and the dis¬ 
covery of the “phatic” function is symptomatic of the need to 
inject contact, establish connections, and speak tirelessly sim¬ 
ply in order to render language possible. A desperate situation 
where even simple contact appears wondrous. 

If the phatic has become hypertrophied in all our communi¬ 
cations systems (i.e., within the media and information process¬ 
ing systems), it is because tele-distance ensures that speech 
literally no longer has any meaning. One says that one is speak¬ 
ing, but by speaking one is only verifying the network and the 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 165 


fact that one is linked up with it. There is not even an “other” 
at the other end, for in a simple reciprocation of signals of recog¬ 
nition there is no longer an identifiable transmitter or receiver, 
but simply two terminals. The one terminal’s signal to the other 
is merely an indication that something is going through and 
that, therefore, nothing is happening. Perfect dissuasion. 

Two terminals do not two interlocutors make. In “tele” space 
(the following also holds true for television), there are no longer 
any determinate terms or positions. Only terminals in a posi¬ 
tion of ex-termination. It is here, morever, that Jakobson’s en¬ 
tire grid falls apart, for its validity is restricted to the classic 
configuration of discourse and communication. The grid loses 
its meaning when applied to networks where pure “digitality” 
reigns. In discourse there is still a polarity of terms, distinctive 
oppositions that regulate the advent of meaning. A structure, 
syntax and space of difference, still regulate dialogue, as im¬ 
plied by the sign (signifier/signified) and the message (trans¬ 
mitter/receiver), etc. But the 0/1 of binary or digital systems 
is no longer a distinctive opposition or established difference. 
It is a “bit,” the smallest unit of electronic impulse - no longer 
a unit of meaning , but an identificatory pulse. It is no longer 
language, but its radical dissuasion. This is what the matrix of 
information and communication is like, and how the networks 
function. The need for “contact” is most cruelly felt, for not 
only is there no duel relation as with the Melanesian’s linguis¬ 
tic potlach, but there is no longer even the inter-individual logic 
of exchange found in classical language (that of Jakobson). Dis¬ 
cursive duality and polarity have been succeeded by the digi¬ 
tality of data processing. The total ascendancy of the media and 
networks. The cold elevation of the electronic media, and of 
the mass itself as medium. 

TELE: there are no longer anything but terminals. AUTO: each 
person is his or her own terminal. (“Tele” and “auto” can them¬ 
selves be seen as working pieces or commuting particles that 
are connected to words, like a video is connected to a group 
of people, or television to those watching it). The group with 
a video camera is itself its own terminal. It records, adjusts and 
manages itself electronically. It turns itself on, seduces itself. 
The group is seduced and even eroticized by the instantane- 


166 SEDUCTION 


ous report it has of itself. Soon self-management will be univer¬ 
sal, the province of every person, group and terminal. Self¬ 
seduction will become the norm of all the charged particles 
in the networks or systems. 

The body itself, operated by remote control from the genet¬ 
ic code, is itself no more than its own terminal; it has no other 
concern than the optimal self-management of its memory banks. 

Pure magnetization - that of the response by the question, 
the real by the model, the 0 by the 1, the network by its very 
existence, the speakers by their mere connection, the pure tac- 
tility of the signal, the sheer virtue of “contact,” the total af¬ 
finity of one terminal for another: this is the image of seduction, 
scattered and diffused throughout all our current systems. A 
self-seduction/self-management that simply reflects the net¬ 
works” circularity, and the shortcircuiting of each of their atoms 
or particles. (Some might speak here of narcissism, and why 
not? If only because one should not transpose terms like nar¬ 
cissism and seduction to a register that does not concern them, 
that of simulation). 

Thus according to Jean Querzola in “Le silicium fleur de peau” 
(Traverses , no. 14/15): psychobiiological technology - all the 
computer prosthesis and self-adjusting electronic networks we 
possess - provides us with a kind of strange bioelectronic mir¬ 
ror, in which each person, like some digital narcissus, is going 
to slide along the trajectory of a death drive and sink in his or 
her own image. Narcissus = narcosis (McLuhan had already 
made the connection): 

Electronic narcosis: it is the ultimate risk of digi¬ 
tal simulation... We would slip from Oedipus to 
Narcissus... At the end of the self-management of 
our bodies and pleasures there would be a slow 
narcissistic narcosis. In a word, with silicon, what 
happens to the reality principle? I am not saying 
that the world’s digitalization will soon put an end 
to Oedipus. I am noting that the development of 
biology and information technology is accompa¬ 
nied by the dissolution of the personality struc¬ 
ture we call Oedipal. The dissolution of these 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 167 


structures uncovers another region, where the 
father is absent: it has to do with the maternal, the 
oceanic feeling and the death drive. It is not a neu¬ 
rosis that threatens, but something of the order of 
a psychosis. A pathological narcissism... We believe 
that we understand the forms of the social bond 
built on Oedipus. But when the latter no longer 
functions, what will power do? After authority, 
seduction? 

The finest example of this “bionic mirror” and “narcissistic 
necrosis” is cloning, the extreme form of self-seduction: from 
the Same to the Same without going through the Other. 

In the United States a child might be born in the same way 
as a geranium, by taking cuttings. The first child-clone - geneal¬ 
ogy by vegetative multiplication. The first child born from the 
single cell of an individual, his “father,” the sole parent, of which 
he will be the exact copy, the perfect twin, the double (D. Ror- 
vik, “A son image: la copie d’un homme”). Infinite human propa¬ 
gation by cuttings, with each cell of an individuated organism 
capable of becoming the matrix for an identical individual. 

My genetic inheritance was fixed once and for all 
when a certain spermatozoid met a certain ovary. 

This inheritance bears the formula for all the bio¬ 
chemical processes that have created me and en¬ 
sure my functioning. A copy of this formula is in¬ 
scribed in each of the tens of billions of cells that 
constitute me. Each of them knows my makeup; 
before being a cell of my liver or blood, it is a cell 
of me. It is therefore theoretically possible to con¬ 
struct an individual identical to myself from any 
one of them. (Pr. A. Jacquard) 

Projection and internment in the mirror of the genetic code. 
There is no better prosthesis than D.N.A., no finer narcissistic 
extension than that new image bestowed on modern beings in 
place of their specular image: their molecular formula. Here 
is where one will find one’s “truth” - in the indefinite repeti- 


168 SEDUCTION 


tion of one’s “real,” biological being. This narcissism, whose 
source is no longer a mirror but a formula, is a monstrous paro¬ 
dy of the myth of Narcissus. A cold narcissism, a cold self¬ 
seduction, without even that minimal distance necessary for 
the experience of oneself as an illusion. The materialization of 
the real, biological double in the clone cuts short the possibil¬ 
ity of playing with one’s own image and, thereby, playing with 
one’s own death. 

The double is an imaginary figure that, like the soul or one’s 
shadow, or one’s image in a mirror, haunts the subject with a 
faint death that has to be constantly warded off. If it material¬ 
izes, death is imminent. This fantastic proposition is now liter¬ 
ally realized in cloning. The clone is the very image of death, 
but without the symbolic illusion that once gave it its charm. 

Something of the subject’s intimacy with himself rests on the 
immateriality of his double, on the fact that it is and remains 
a phantasy. One can and must dream throughout one’s life of 
the perfect duplication or multiplication of one’s being, but it 
remains a dream, and is destroyed when one tries to make it 
real. The same holds for the primal scene or that of seduction: 
they too only work when recalled and phantasized, never when 
real. It was up to our period to try and materialize this phanta¬ 
sy - like so many others - and by way of total confusion, change 
the play with one’s double from a subtle exchange with death 
and the other into an eternity of the same. 

The dream of eternal twins as a substitute for sexual reproduc¬ 
tion. A cellular dream of schizogenesis - the surest form of 
parenthood, since it finally allows one to bypass the other, and 
go from the same to the same (one will still require a woman’s 
uterus, and a hollowed out ovum, but these aids are short-lived 
and anonymous - any female prosthesis will do). A mono¬ 
cellular utopia that, by way of genetics, will enable complex 
beings to attain the destiny of protozoa. 

Is there a death drive that pushes sexed beings towards a form 
of reproduction anterior to their acquisition of sexual identi¬ 
ties - (moreover, doesn’t this fissiparous form, this prolifera¬ 
tion by contiguity conjure up death in the deepest recesses of 
our imaginary - as something that denies sexuality and seeks 
to annihilate it, the latter being the bearer of life and therefore 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 169 


a critical and mortal form of reproduction?) - and that simul¬ 
taneously pushes them to deny all alterity so that they need 
no longer strive for anything but the perpetuation of an iden¬ 
tity, the transparency of a genetic code all the more dedicated 
to procreation? 

Let us leave the death drive. Perhaps we are dealing with a 
fantasy of self-engendering? But no, for the subject might dream 
of eliminating the parental figures and even substituting him¬ 
self for them, but he cannot eliminate the symbolic structure 
of procreation: when one becomes one’s own child, one is still 
the child of someone. Cloning by contrast, abolishes not just 
the Mother, but the Father, the crossing of their genes, the im¬ 
mixture of their differences, and above all the duel act that en¬ 
gendering supposes. The person cloned does not engender 
himself: he comes to bud from a segment. One might specu¬ 
late on the wealth of these plant-like branchings that dissolve 
Oedipal sexuality in favour of an “non-human” sex - but the 
fact remains that both the Father and Mother have disappeared, 
and in favour of a matrix/code [the word "matrice” means both 
“matrix” and “womb”}. No more mother, just a matrix. And 
henceforth it is the matrix of the genetic code that will “give 
birth” without end in an operative manner purged of all con¬ 
tingent sexuality. 

Nor can one speak any longer of a subject, since the iden- 
titarian reduplication puts an end to its division. The mirror 
stage is abolished, or rather parodied in monstrous fashion, 
marking the end of the age-old dream of the subject’s narcis¬ 
sistic projection. For the latter still supposes a mirror, the mir¬ 
ror in which the subject alienates himself in order to find 
himself, or stares at himself only to see his own death. But here 
there is no mirror: an industrial object within a series does not 
“mirror” the identical object that succeeds it. The one is never 
a mirage, an ideal or danger for the other. At most such objects 
can be added up, for they have not been engendered sexually 
and are not aware of death. 

A segment does not require the mediation of the imaginary 
for its reproduction - no more than an earthworm. Each seg¬ 
ment of a worm is reproduced directly as the complete worm 
- each cell of an American industrialist can give rise to a new 


170 SEDUCTION 


industrialist. Just as each fragment of a hologram can become 
a matrix of the complete hologram; all the information being 
contained in each of the scattered fragments. 

The same logic marks the end of the concept of totality. If 
all the information can be found in each of the parts, the whole 
loses its meaning. It also marks the end of the body, of this sin¬ 
gular being we call the body, this singular configuration that 
cannot be segmented into additional cells, as witnessed by the 
fact of sexuality. Paradoxically, cloning will fabricate sexed be¬ 
ings in perpetuity, since they will resemble their models, even 
as the sex organs lose their function. But then sex is not a func¬ 
tion, for it exceeds all the body’s parts and functions. Indeed, 
it exceeds all the data that can be obtained about the body, 
which the genetic code claims to collect. This is why the latter 
can only clear the way to a type of autonomous reproduction, 
independent of sex and death. 

★ ★ ★ 

The bio-physio-anatomical sciences had already begun the 
analytical decomposition of the body with its dissection into 
organs and functions. Micro-molecular genetics is its logical con¬ 
sequence at a much higher level of abstraction and simulation: 
the nuclear level of the command cell, the directive level of 
the genetic code around which this entire phantasmagoria is 
organized. 

In the mechanistic vision we can still speak of “traditional” 
simulation, each organ being only a partial and differentiated 
prosthesis. In the bio-cybernetic vision, the smallest undifferen¬ 
tiated element, the cell becomes an embryonic prosthesis of 
the entire body. The formula inscribed in each cell becomes 
the true modern prosthesis of all bodies. For if a prosthesis is 
generally an artifact that replaces a failing organ, or an in¬ 
strumental prolongation of the body, then the DNA molecule 
that contains all the data relative to a living being, is the prosthe¬ 
sis par excellence, since it will allow that being to prolong it¬ 
self indefinitely. In truth, it will become nothing more than the 
indefinite series of its cybernetic avatars. 

We are speaking of a prosthesis even more artificial than any 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 171 


mechanical prosthesis. For the genetic code is not “natural.” 
Whenever a part is abstracted from the whole and rendered 
autonomous, it alters the whole by substituting itself for it (pro¬ 
thesis - this is its etymological meaning). In this sense one can 
say that the genetic code, which claims to condense an entire 
living being because it contains all the latter’s “data” (genetic 
simulation is incredibly violent) is an artifact, an artificial matrix, 
a simulation matrix, from which will proceed, no longer by 
reproduction, but by pure and simple repetition, identical be¬ 
ings assigned to the same commands. 

★ ★ ★ 

Cloning is, therefore, the ultimate state of the body’s simula¬ 
tion, where the individual, reduced to an abstract genetic for¬ 
mula, is destined to serial multiplication. Walter Benjamin said 
that in the age of mechanical reproduction the work of art loses 
its “aura,” the unique quality of its here and now, its aesthetic 
form: it is no longer destined for seduction but reproduction, 
and in its new destiny, takes on a political form. The original 
is lost, and only nostalgia can restore its “authenticity.” The ex¬ 
treme form of this process is to be found in our contemporary 
mass media, where there never was an original, things being 
conceived from the start in terms of their unlimited reproduci¬ 
bility. 

This is exactly what happens to human beings with cloning. 
This is what happens to the body when conceived only as in¬ 
formational stock, or as data to be processed. Nothing then pre¬ 
vents its serial reproduction in the same terms Benjamin used 
when speaking of industrial objects or images. The genetic 
model has precedence over all possible bodies. 

Behind this reversal lies the incursion of a technology that 
Benjamin had already described as a total medium - an enor¬ 
mous prosthesis for the generation of identical and indistin¬ 
guishable objects and images - but without yet conceiving of 
the current deepening of this technology, which makes possi¬ 
ble the generation of identical beings, without any possible 
return to an original being. The prosthesis of the industrial age 
were still external, exotechnical - while those that we are coming 


172 SEDUCTION 


to know have branched out and been interiorized: esotechnical. 

We live in an age of soft technologies, of genetic and mental 
software. The prosthesis of the industrial age, its machines, still 
paid heed to the body in order to modify its image - and were 
themselves metabolized in an imaginary, this metabolism be¬ 
coming part of the body’s image. But when simulation reaches 
the point of no return, when the prosthesis infiltrate the body’s 
anonymous, micro-molecular core, when they force themselves 
on the body as its matrix, and burn out all the succeeding sym¬ 
bolic circuits such that all future bodies will be only its immuta¬ 
ble repetition - then the body and its history have come to an 
end, the individual being no more than the cancerous metastasis 
of his basic formula. 

Is not the cloning of individuals from an individual X simi¬ 
lar to the proliferation of a single cell one identifies with cancer? 
There is a close relation between the concept of the genetic 
code and the pathology of cancer. The code designates the 
minimal formula to which one can reduce an individual such 
that he can (and can only) be repeated, while with cancer the 
same type of cell proliferates without concern for the organic 
laws of the whole. Thus with cloning one witnesses the repeti¬ 
tion of the Same, the proliferation of a single matrix. Formerly 
sexual reproduction prevented this, but today one can finally 
isolate the genetic matrix of identity, and eliminate all the 
differential vicissitudes that gave individuals their aleatory 
charm. Or their seductiveness. 

The metastasis that began with industrial objects ends in cel¬ 
lular organization. Cancer is the disease that dominates con¬ 
temporary pathology, because it is the very form of the code’s 
virulence-, the aggravated redundancy of the same cells, or the 
same signals. 


★ ★ ★ 

Cloning is very much in keeping with the irreversible ten¬ 
dency to “extend and deepen the system’s internal transparen- 
cy by increasing its possibilities of self-regulation and modifying 
its informational economy” (Querzola). 

All drives will be expelled. Everything interior (networks, 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 173 


functions, organs, conscious or unconscious circuits) will be 
exteriorized in the form of prosthesis that will constitute an ideal 
corpus orbiting around the body, but with the latter as its own 
satellite. Every nucleus will be enucleated and projected into 
spatial orbit. 

The clone is the materialization of the genetic formula in hu¬ 
man form. But it will not stop there. All the body’s secrets - 
sex, anguish, even the subtle pleasures derived from mere ex¬ 
istence - everything that you do not, and do not want to know 
about yourself, will be turned into bio-feed-back, and returned 
to you in the form of “built-in” digital information. It is the bi¬ 
onic mirror stage (Querzola). 

A digital Narcissus instead of a triangular Oedipus. The 
hypostasis of the artificial double, the clone will be your guar¬ 
dian angel, the visible form of your unconscious and the flesh 
of your flesh, not metaphorically but literally . Your “fellow crea¬ 
ture” will henceforth be the clone with its hallucinatory resem¬ 
blance, such that you will never be alone, and will never have 
any secrets. “Love your neighbour as yourself” - the difficul¬ 
ties of living the Gospel will be resolved. Your neighbour is 
yourself. Love is therefore total. Total self-seduction. 

★ ★ ★ 

The masses themselves form a clone-like apparatus that func¬ 
tions without the mediation of the other. In the last analysis, 
the masses are simply the sum of all the systems’ terminals - 
a network travelled by digital impulses (this is what forms a 
mass). Oblivious to external injunctions, they constitute them¬ 
selves into integrated circuits given over to manipulation (self¬ 
manipulation) and “seduction” (self-seduction). 

In truth, nobody any longer knows how a representational 
apparatus works, or even if it still exists. Still, it is becoming 
increasingly urgent to rationalize possible occurrences in the 
universe of simulation. What happens between an absent, 
hypothetical pole of power and the neutral, elusive pole formed 
by the masses? The answer: seduction. Things work by 
seduction. 

But such seduction suggests the workings of a social world 



174 SEDUCTION 


that we no longer comprehend, and a political world whose 
structures have faded. In place of the latter, seduction gives rise 
to an immense blank area traversed by tepid currents of speech, 
or a malleable network lubricated by magnetic impulses. The 
world is no longer driven by power, but fascination, no longer 
by production, but seduction. This seduction is, however, no 
more than an empty declaration formed of simulated concepts. 
The discourses held by both the “strategists” of mass desire 
(the politicians, advertisers, organizers, engineers of the soul, 
and of the mind, etc.) and the “analysts” of their strategies, these 
discourses that describe the functioning of the social or the po¬ 
litical, or what remains of them, in terms of seduction, they 
are as vacuous as the political space itself. They simply refract 
the emptiness of that about which they speak. “The media 
seduce the masses,” “the masses seduce themselves” - the use 
of the word seduction here is incredibly shallow and hackneyed. 
Corrupted of its literal meaning, which implies charm and mortal 
enchantment, the term comes to signify the social and techni¬ 
cal lubrication required for smooth relations - a smooth semi- 
urgy, a soft technology. The term then has an “ecological” 
connotation, and marks the passage from hard to soft energies. 
Soft energy, soft seduction. The social made scarce. 

★ ★ ★ 

With this diffuse, tensile form of seduction, one is no longer 
speaking of the aristocratic seduction of duel relations. One is 
speaking of a seduction reviewed and revised by the ideology of 
desire. A psychologized seduction that results from its vulgarization 
with the rise in the West of the imaginary figure of desire. 

This figure does not belong to the masters, but was histori¬ 
cally produced by the oppressed under the sign of their libera¬ 
tion, and has been deepened by the failure of successive 
revolutions. As a form, desire marks the passage from their sta¬ 
tus as objects to that of subjects, but this passage is itself only 
a more refined, interiorized perpetuation of their servitude. The 
first glimmerings of mass subjectivity at the dawn of modern 
and revolutionary times - the first glimmerings of the fact that 
the masses were subjects and could manage their own servi- 



THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 175 


tude under the sign of their own desires! Large-scale seduction 
now begins. For if an object can simply be dominated, the sub¬ 
ject of desire, by contrast, has to be seduced. 

This soft strategy will spread, socially and historically The 
masses will be psychologized in order to be seduced; they will 
be rigged up with desires in order to be distracted. Yesterday 
they had a (mystified!) consciousness and were alienated - to¬ 
day they have an unconscious and (repressed and corrupted) 
desires and are seduced. Yesterday they were diverted from the 
(revolutionary) truth of history - today they are diverted from 
the truth of their own desires. The poor, seduced and manipu¬ 
lated masses! Where once they had to endure domination un¬ 
der the threat of violence, now they must accept it by dint of 
seduction. 


★ ★ ★ 

Speaking more generally, the theoretical hallucination of 
desire, with its diffuse libidinal psychology, serves as a back¬ 
drop to that simulacrum of seduction which one now finds 
everywhere. Having replaced the world of surveillance, it charac¬ 
terizes the vulnerability of both individuals and masses to soft 
injunctions. Distilled in homeophatic doses throughout all per¬ 
sonal and social relations, the seductive shadow of this discourse 
hovers today over the desert of social relations, and of power 
itself. 

In this sense, we truly live in an era of seduction. But we can 
no longer speak of that form of absorption or potential engulf- 
ment, that fateful distraction from which no one or no “reali¬ 
ty” can ever be completely safe (perhaps there is no longer 
enough reality to deflect, nor truth to subvert). Nor even of the 
corruption of innocence or virtue (there is no longer sufficient 
morality - or perversion - for that). All that remains is to seduce 
in order to seduce? “Seduce me.” “Let me seduce you.” It is 
the seduction that remains when all the stakes have been with¬ 
drawn. We are no longer speaking about a violence commit¬ 
ted against meaning or about its silent extermination, but about 
what is left to language when it no longer has anything to say 
No longer a vertiginous loss, but the minimalist form of mutu- 




176 SEDUCTION 


al gratification two linguistic beings can give each other in an 
enervated social relation. “Seduce me.” “Let me seduce you.” 

In this sense, seduction is everywhere, surreptitiously or open¬ 
ly, blending in with the ambiance, the constant solicitations, 
with exchange pure and simple. It is the seduction of student 
and teacher (I am seducing you and you are seducing me, there 
being nothing else to do), of the politician and his public, of 
power (ah, the seduction of power and the power of seduc¬ 
tion!), of the analyst and the analysand, etc. 

The Jesuits were already famous for having used seduction 
in a religious guise, for having returned the throngs to the bos¬ 
om of the Catholic church by the worldly and aesthetic seduc¬ 
tion of the baroque, and having recaptured the consciences of 
the powerful by the expedient of fancy goods and fancy wom¬ 
en. In effect, the Jesuits provide the first modern example of 
the elaboration of a strategy of mass desire and a society of mass 
seduction. And they were relatively successful. It is entirely pos¬ 
sible that, once the austere charms of political economy and 
producer capitalism - capitalism’s puritan cycle - have been 
swept away, a catholic and Jesuitical era will begin, with a soft 
technology of seduction and a soft, rosy semiurgy. 

It is no longer a matter of seduction as passion, but of a de¬ 
mand for seduction. Of an invocation of desire and its realiza¬ 
tion in place of the faltering relations of power and knowledge 
that inhere in love and transference. What happens to the master- 
slave dialectic when the master has been seduced by the slave, 
and the slave by the master? Seduction becomes no more than 
an effusion of differences or a discursive libidinal striptease. With 
a vague collusion between supply and demand, seduction be¬ 
comes nothing more than an exchange value, serving the cir¬ 
culation of exchanges and the lubrication of social relations. 

What remains of the enchantment of that labyrinthine struc¬ 
ture within which one could lose oneself? What is left of seduc¬ 
tion’s imposture? “There is another type of violence, which has 
neither its name nor outward appearance, but which is no less 
dangerous. I am speaking of seduction” (Rollin). Traditionally, 
the seducer was an impostor who employed subterfuge and vil¬ 
lainy to achieve his ends - or at least who believed he was em¬ 
ploying them. For the other, by allowing herself to be seduced, 



THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 177 


by succumbing to the imposture, often voided it, stripped the 
seducer of his control. In effect, he falls into his own trap for 
having failed to consider seduction’s reversible power. 

The following always holds: the one who seeks to please the 
other has already succumbed to the other’s charms. On this 
basis, an entire religion or culture can be organized around re¬ 
lations of seduction (as opposed to relations of production). 
Thus the Greek gods - seducers/impostors - used their power 
to seduce men, but were seduced in turn, and indeed were often 
reduced to seducing men, this being their main task. Thus they 
provided the image of a world order ruled not by laws, as in 
the Christian universe or political economy, but by a mutual 
seduction that ensured the symbolic equilibrium between gods 
and men. 

What remains of this violence trapped by its own artifice? 
That universe where gods and men sought to please each other 
- even by the violent seduction of sacrifice - has ended. As 
has the secret understanding of signs and analogies that provided 
magic with its power of enchantment. And with it, the assump¬ 
tion that the entire world is susceptible to seduction and rever¬ 
sible in signs - not just the gods, but inanimate beings, things, 
and the dead themselves who have always had to be seduced, 
bewitched and cast out with the aid of numerous signs and ritu¬ 
als, lest they do any harm. Today one has to work through one’s 
own mourning, an individual and eerie task of reorientation 
and redeployment. We now live in a universe of forces and re¬ 
lations of force, a universe that has materialized as in a void, 
an object of mastery and not seduction. A universe of produc¬ 
tion, investments, counter-investments and the liberation of 
energies, a universe of the Law and objective laws, a universe 
of the master-slave dialectic. 

Sexuality itself arose within this universe as one of its objec¬ 
tive functions, and now tends to overdetermine all the others, 
substituting itself as an alternative finality for those that are dis¬ 
appearing or already defunct. Everything is sexualized and there¬ 
by acquires something of a terrain for adventure and play. 
Everywhere the id speaks. Every discourse appear as an eter¬ 
nal commentary on sex and desire. In this sense, one might say 
that they have all become discourses of seduction, discourses 




178 SEDUCTION 


that register an explicit demand for seduction, but a soft seduc¬ 
tion, whose weakened condition has become synonymous with 
so much else in this society - the ambience, the manipulation, 
the persuasion, the gratification, the strategies of desire, the mys¬ 
tique of personal relations, the libidinal economy and its 
smoothed over relations of transference which relays the com¬ 
petitive economy and its relations of force. This seduction, 
which permeates the entire expanse of language, has no more 
substance or sense than the power that pervades all the inter¬ 
stices of the social network. This is why they are able to com¬ 
bine their discourses so easily The degenerated metalanguage 
of seduction combined with the degenerated metalanguage of 
politics is everywhere operative (or if one will, is absolutely 
non-operative). It is enough that there be a consensus concern¬ 
ing the model of seduction's simulation , the diffuse stream of 
speech and desire - just as the murky metalanguage of partici¬ 
pation suffices to safeguard an appearance of sociality. 

★ ★ ★ 

The discourse of simulation is not an imposture. It has only 
to have seduction act as a simulacrum of affect, desire, or libidi¬ 
nal investment, in a world where the need for these is cruelly 
felt. However, just as the “relations of force” were never able 
to explain the vicissitudes of power in the panoptic age - ex¬ 
cept in Marxian idealism - similarly seduction, or the relations 
of seduction, cannot account for contemporary political events. 
If everything is driven by seduction, it would not be by this 
soft seduction, as revised by the ideology of desire, but by a 
defiant seduction, a dual, antagonistic seduction with the stakes 
maximized, including those that are secret. It would not be by 
a game strategy, but by a mythical seduction, not a psychologi¬ 
cal and operative seduction, not a cold, minimalist seduction. 



SEDUCTION AS DESTINY 


Are we to think that this diffuse seduction, which is neither 
attractive nor dangerous, this specter of seduction that haunts 
our circuits without secrets, our phantasies without affect, and 
our contact networks without contacts, that this is its pure form? 
As if the modern happening with its participation and expres¬ 
siveness, where the stage and its magic have disappeared, would 
be the theater’s pure form? Or as if the hypothetical and hyper- 
real mode of intervention in reality - in acting pictures, land- 
art and body art - where the object, frame and staging of illu¬ 
sions have disappeared, would be the pure form of painting 
and art? 

We are living, in effect, amongst pure forms, in a radical ob¬ 
scenity, that is to say, in the visible, undifferentiated obscenity 
of figures that were once secret and discrete. The same is true 
of the social, which today rules in its pure - i.e., empty and 
obscene - form. The same for seduction, which in its present 
form, having lost its elements of risk, suspense and sorcery, takes 
the form of a faint, undifferentiated obscenity 

Shall we refer to Walter Benjamin’s geneology of the work 
of art and its destiny? At first, the work of art has the status 
of a ritual object, related to an ancestral form of cult. Next it 
takes on a cultural or aesthetic form in a system with fewer ob¬ 
ligations; it still retains a singular character, though the latter 


180 SEDUCTION 


is no longer immanent to the ritual object, but transcendental 
and individualized. Lastly, the aesthetic form gives way to a po¬ 
litical form in which the work of art as such disappears before 
the inevitable progress of mechanical reproduction. If in the 
ritual form there are no originals (the aesthetic originality of 
cult objects is of little concern in the sacred), the original is 
again lost in the political form. There is only the multiplica¬ 
tion of objects; the political form corresponding to the object’s 
maximum circulation and minimum intensity. 

Seduction too would have had its ritual phase (duel, magi¬ 
cal, agonistic); its aesthetic phase (as reflected in the “aesthetic 
strategy” of the seducer, whose domain approaches that of the 
feminine and sexuality, the ironic and the diabolic - it is then 
that seduction takes on the meaning it has for us: the possibly 
accursed distraction of appearances, their strategies, their play); 
and finally its “political” phase (biking up Benjamin’s term, here 
somewhat ambiguous). In this last phase the original of seduc¬ 
tion, its ritual and aesthetic form, disappears in favour of an 
all-out ventilation whereby seduction becomes the informal 
form of politics, the scaled-down framework for an elusive po¬ 
litics devoted to the endless reproduction of a form without 
content. (This informal form is inseparable from its technical 
nature, which is that of networks - just as the political form 
of the object is inseparable from the techniques of serial 
reproduction). As with the object, this “political” form cor¬ 
responds to seduction’s maximum diffusion and minimum in¬ 
tensity. 

★ ★ ★ 

Is this to be seduction’s destiny? Or can we oppose this involu¬ 
tional fate, and lay a wager on seduction as destiny ? Produc¬ 
tion as destiny, or seduction as destiny? Against the deep 
structures and their truth, appearances and their destiny? Be 
that as it may, we are living today in non-sense, and if simula¬ 
tion is its disenchanted form, seduction is its enchanted form. 

Anatomy is not destiny, nor is politics: seduction is destiny. 
It is what remains of a magical, fateful world, a risky, vertiginous 
and predestined world; it is what is quietly effective in a visi¬ 
bly efficient and stolid world. 


THE POLITICAL DESTINY OF SEDUCTION 181 


The world is naked, the king is naked, and things are clear. 
All of production, and truth itself, are directed towards dis¬ 
closure, the unbearable “truth” of sex being but the most re¬ 
cent consequence. Luckily, at bottom, there is nothing to it. 
And seduction still holds, in the face of truth, a most sibylline 
response, which is that “perhaps we wish to uncover the truth 
because it is so difficult to imagine it naked.” 


CultureTexts 


General Editors Arthur and Marilouise Kroker 


SEDUCTION 

Jean Baudrillard 

translated by Brian Singer 

NOTHING CAN BE GREATER THAN SEDUCTION 
ITSELF, NOT EVEN THE ORDER THAT 
DESTROYS IT 

“Seduction is a theory-fiction which resembles nothing which has preceded 
it. It turns many contemporary discourses inside out, even the most radical, 
and could very well challenge all modern theory, even, indeed, the rules of 
theoretical production itself.” Liberation 

“... probably the most influential contemporary media analyst and social 
theorist.” New Statesman 

for Baudrillard, is not seduction a new figure of our freedom?” L’Express 


Seduction is Jean Baudrillard s most provocative book. Here, under the sign of 
seduction all of modern theory is put into question, feminism and psychoanalysis 
most of all. Seduction speaks of the sudden reversibility in the order of things 
where discourse is absorbed into its own signs without a trace of meaning. In 
the sudden triumph of seduction in apocalyptic culture there is also signalled 
the end of history. 


Jean Baudrillard is lecturer in Sociology, University of Nanterre. Among his works 
translated into English are America, Simulations and Simulacra, Forget Foucault, 
In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, and For a Critique of the Political Economy 
of the Sign. 

Brian Singer teaches at Glendon College, York University, and is the author of 
Society, Theory and the French Revolution (Macmillan/St. Martin’s Press, 1986). 


Cover: Man Ray Femme aux longs cheveux , 1929 © VIS ART 
Book and Cover Design: Marilouise Kroker 


Printed in Canada